With the obsession surrounding games like Fortnite and PUBG gripping millennials and forcing them to choose between rent and the latest DLC, you can’t help but wonder if there ever existed a game that could unite and divide people so effortlessly. For Dubai babies, Counter Strike was that trigger.
Growing up in Dubai, the sweltering summers meant one thing. The outdoors were off limits till the fire giant had set. To battle the lack of congregational spaces, the early 2000s saw a flood of internet cafés come to life in old Dubai. Whether people flocked to them immediately, or their curiosity got the better of them over time, is a point of contention to this very day. But one thing was certain, in a few short years, these cafés had made themselves an institution.
Arguably the most popular game that flourished in these cafés was Counter Strike, a first person shooter game. Though there was a campaign mode, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Dubai kid who could tell you even the minutest detail about it. The thrill we sought was LAN gaming - a closed off gaming loop where our opponents sat in the same hall as us and we could bask in all the ups and downs of their emotions. Every win accentuated by a scream of agony or an accusation of cheating. The idea was simple, teams were split into terrorists and counter-terrorists with no discernible distinctions other than what they wore, where they started on the map and a few of the weapons. Beyond that, it was a team on team death match with no rules. Tensions would run high and emotions deep as arguments about which map, dust or mansion should be played (Mansion, of course. Always mansion) and whether camping was allowed or not. Counter Strike or “1.3” as it was affectionately abbreviated became a household name.
Sure enough, the level of competition and pride in one’s skill led to the formation of factions called clans. Like a medal for their service, or a tattoo of remembrance, these players embedded their username with their clan prefix to indicate where their loyalties lay. With the ethnic diversity that exists in those parts of old Dubai, the Counter Strike clans and loyalists formed their own culture, one devoid of language barriers or any other divisions that existed outside. Funnily enough, one of the things people were also loyal to was the particular café that they frequented to get their Counter Strike fix. Going to a new café cause you were in a different part of town was akin to going grocery shopping in a foreign country. The concept felt familiar but not quite right.
At its core, Counter Strike served as the foundation of many a friendship and that’s what it all boiled down to. Dubai kids might not have had the American “ride our bikes through the suburbs” but they did have a digital clan running through dusty streets with M-4 Carbines, and if that doesn’t say friendship, I don’t know what does.
What started out as simply a way to pass the time soon became an inextricable part of Dubai’s culture. A movement that shaped a generation. With all of gaming’s advances and the sophistication of its graphics, with every COD, Fortnite or PUBG that pops up, the question remains, is there anything more fun, timeless and nostalgic than arming yourself with a B-41, a B-1-5 plus a couple of B-8-4s?