Ramadhan Blues: A Muslim Gamer’s Woes

Gotta go fast!

[It’s always great to get someone else’s perspective on the world, and to see how things you or I might readily and easily enjoy may encumber others’ ways of life. Ricky Namara gives us great insight into his experiences as a Muslim gamer trying to enjoy his favorite hobby during the holy month of Ramadan. It’s not only personal, but it’s funny as heck – the part where he first asks his religious instructor about a particular move from Street Fighter might be the funniest thing I’ve ever read! Wanna see your blog on Destructoid’s Front Page? Blog about something, ya jerk! – Wes]

Part of growing up where I live is to have a religious teacher (really an “instructor,” if you want to be technical) come to our house every afternoon to yank me away from my precious gaming time to learn whether I’m going to the nice place where all the nice people go when they die, or to the not-so-nice place where the not-so-nice people get a pitchfork shoved up their bums.

One particular afternoon my teacher set me aside and told me all about Ramadhan fasting, a grand tradition that only comes once a year where all of the bad things I did for that whole entire year will be forgiven by Allah, The Top Dog, The Big A Himself, for the low, low price of having my breakfast moved up from 6 AM to 4 AM. It’s called a “Half-Day Fasting,” and it was a very popular method of introducing children age ten years or younger to this annual event.

“Of course when you get older you have to do the full-day fasting,” my teacher said, “but for now, a half-day fasting will still get you the same thing.”

“Really, Mr. J (name changed for privacy)?” I replied in my boyish enthusiasm. “I’d be forgiven for everything?”

“Yes,” he nodded, and smiled at my sudden interest.

“Even that time I accidentally almost burned the house down?”

“It was an ‘accident,’ officer.”

After assuring me that even my attempted arson would be absolved (and making sure I wasn’t some firebug in the making), my teacher informed me that with that sweet deal comes a few not-so-sweet prohibitions that I would need to watch out for, else it would break this gentleman’s agreement I have with The Big A Himself. Eating and drinking before the fasting period for the day is up were the obvious ones, but then there were also other tiny little details like cussing or lying or even crying when you get upset that would render your fast as useless as Mass Effect 3‘s multiple endings.

Being a gamer, even at that young age, I knew a sneaky pitfall when I saw one and started planning my actions accordingly to make sure that all my Is were dotted and my Ts crossed. After all, I was a rather rambunctious little brat who caused no end of trouble, and as my parents are all too keen to tell me, there was only one place rambunctious brats would go in the afterlife and it’s not exactly sunshine and gumdrops down there. To have a presidential, nay, a divine pardon from the Alpha and Omega Himself and wipe the slate clean was a deal I knew I simply could not pass up.

But then of course as these kinds of stories go, I ran into some…problems.

Seriously, guys – look at the SIZE of those ‘problems!’

The year was 1991, the time when the ’80s officially ended and the ’90s truly began. Terminator 2 was the movie that every young kid would try to sneak in and watch, Nirvana broke into the scene the same way Beatlemania drove those ’60s teenage girls wild, and the hottest new video game in the arcades was, of course, Hologram Time Traveler, which you’ve all realized to be untrue because I was checking to see if you were still paying attention and the real answer is, of course, Street Fighter II: The World Warriors.

I’ve lost count of how much pocket change was gobbled up by the dastardly machine as I had a blast playing against friends and foes alike, Hadouken-ing my way from victory to victory while inching slowly forward to where the dastardly Vega (or M. Bison as you westerners know him) was waiting. It got to the point where my mother would take me to the mall, drop me off at the arcades with a stack of coins, go on a two-hour shopping run, and came back to see me still beating opponents left and right on the same SF II machine. That day on my third Ramadhan was not any different either, until this one kid challenged me by picking Chun-Li as his main…to whom I immediately lost the match.

Not because he spammed the kick buttons, not because he had better timing – but because every time he executed her trademark Spinning Bird Kick I had to cover my eyes in fear of breaking my fast.

“I know this is a deathmatch where our lives and honors are on the line but DAYUM, girl! Cover up a little or something!”

“Looking at lewd imagery” was also one of the many details that Mr. J had taught me to be a deal-breaker of my gentleman’s agreement with The Big A Himself, and a lady’s upside-down bare thighs seemed as lewd as they come for a ten-year-old boy. I decided to broach the subject during my next tutoring session with my religious teacher, because at the time I had just graduated from a half-day fasting to a full-day one and I was not going to starve and dehydrate myself for the next thirteen hours out of the day only to find out that it was all for nothing, dammit!

“Mr. J, I have a question!”

“Well fire away, kiddo,” he said in his usual jovial manner.

“If a cartoon lady hiked up her skirt to fly around like a helicopter and kicked my face in repeatedly with her legs, is my fasting a failure for that whole day?”

Needless to say, words eluded him.

And this was his exact expression.

As it turned out that wasn’t going to be the last time my quest for a Ramadhan absolution clashed with the tropes and cliches of my favorite pastime. 1997 marked the Golden Age of JRPGs with the release of Final Fantasy VII, and true to that commercial they were running on TV at the time, the narrative was indeed the most epic fantasy of the year that would never come to a theater near me. The tales that Cloud and co. weaved as they chased after Sephiroth in their bid to save the planet were so filled with joy and sadness, of surprises and of twists and turns aplenty, that I was invested in not just the game, but in the world and its characters as well.

One day, I played the game as a way to help pass the time until “Iftar,” the time for me to end my fasting for the day. It was an action-packed forty-five minutes filled with so many twists and turns that I didn’t even notice there was only fifteen minutes left of daylight before Iftar rolled around. Aerith had been missing from my party for a good long while now, and losing my best healer simply did not sit well with me. I was more than overjoyed when I finally found her kneeling on an altar in solemn player…only to witness the moment that I’m pretty sure most of you have burned into memory and dreaded to relive each time you replayed the game.

This one.

My lips curled. My fists clenched. And the moment Sephiroth opened his mouth to cackle his way into video game infamy, I too opened my mouth to put my displeasure of his cowardly act in two simple words.

Mother fucker, I whispered, before my eyes widened when I realized that I was supposed to be fasting.

“Oh shit!” I gasped when I realized I just cussed out loud, thus invalidating my fasting for the day.

“Goddammit!” I shouted again when I realized I just double-failed my fasting for the day.

Basically, I had just turned into Jim Carrey from Liar Liar.

“PEOPLE USED TO LOOOOOOVE MEEEEEEEEEE!!”

Granted that last one was on me, but I’d be remiss in saying that there are inherent pitfalls in video games that I needed to watch out for during Ramadhan. Fighting games are obviously out, since apparently all the female characters there love nothing more than to dress like they’re going to a Strippers Anonymous meet-up. A good number of JRPGs are also out, which was a shame since it’s a) my chosen favorite genre, and b) the length that it takes to finish a JRPG would’ve been perfect to kill a whole lot of time while waiting for Iftar to finally arrive. Which was why, back to the present day, I was thankful Final Fantasy XV that somehow managed to circumvent all of those issues, Aranea’s outfit notwithstanding. Though it does come with its own sets of problems.

I decided to replay FFXV a couple of days ago. The work hours during Ramadhan ended at 3 PM, and with the time it took to drive myself home I’d be settled in front of my TV at 4 PM with two or so hours to spare until Iftar. I figured that a two-hour gaming session was perfect to take my mind off the gnawing hunger in my belly, and decided to re-join Noctis and his crew for the bro-trip of a lifetime.

Still, there was something in the back of my mind that yelled at me to shut the game down right now before I ended up regretting it, and I couldn’t put a finger on what it was until it was already too late and I made my first camp by the side of the in-game road:

It was the food porn. So much food porn.

“Oh you motherfucker! Oh shit! GodDAMMIT!”

I decided that instead of wrestling with the idea of my favorite pastime clashing against my duty as a Muslim all by my lonesome, I’d turn to calling up Mr. J, now a middle-aged man with two kids of his own, to shed some of his wisdom on the matter. I told him all about my Muslim gamer woes, and after listening to my Ramadhan blues his response was to burst out laughing.

“Why are you laughing? What’s so funny?” was my befuddled response.

“I can’t believe you’re still making a big deal out of that after all these years!” came his reply in between chuckles.

“Wait, what? But you were the one who taught me that those were the deal-breakers! You’re my teacher, so of course I made a big deal out of that!”

“No no no,” he said as he calmed himself down, “I was putting the essence of Ramadhan fasting in terms that a kid could understand. If I were to tell you when you were little that the true essence of Ramadhan is to resist temptations, to not give in to the greedy urges of the human id while at the same time practicing patience, tolerance, and benevolence to your fellow human beings, you’d fall asleep faster than I could finish my lecture!”

I thought about what he said for a moment before confirming what I asked him all those years ago. “So…looking at Chun-Li’s bare thighs doesn’t break my fast at all?”

“You know, my son just showed me this ‘Street Fighter‘ thing you’ve been banging on for years,” Mr. J replied thoughtfully, “and I have to say, there was absolutely nothing I saw that was designed to sexually arouse you with regards to this bird-spinning kick thing. So no, it won’t break your Ramadhan fasting at all.”

Side note: If you find this to be arousing, then brother, you got issues.

My talk with Mr. J has taught me a very valuable lesson: That in the end it all comes down to me.

Regardless of how many jiggling, bouncy “problems” that are shoved at my face, regardless of how much food porn is waved under my nose, I myself am the one who decides if I’m going to make or break my fasting during Ramadhan. It’s a classic case of, “the sword is not evil, the man who swung it decides if it is,” that I’ve seen explored in so many of my favorite RPGs that I lost track of them, and throughout Ramadhan I am reliving that very plot each and every day for the next thirty days. There was a brand new perspective born from that conversation where I realized how rampant emotions can be dangerous when playing through video games, and to be honest I was more than surprised I could pick up that kind of lesson from this entire ordeal.

And so as the month of Ramadhan carried on, I thought I should be a little bit more mature in my playing of video games. No more covering my eyes at a wayward flash of jubblies. No more drooling over CGI food. I control the result of my daily trials on Iftar, and as I sat here spending my hours with a copy of Persona 5, I felt a little better about myself being rather calm and composed and-

SPOILER ALERT!!

…you motherfucker!

Oh shit, not again!

Ah goddammit!!

Ricky Namara