Bahiyya Khan’s activism through video games


By Veronique Jephtas 

The award-winning writer, filmmaker, game designer and developer, Bahiyya Khan, who is widely known and recognised for her game, after HOURS, is a game changer – quite literally. In 2018, Khan won the Humble New Talent Award at A MAZE in Berlin. She is currently busy with her master’s degree where she is studying how women of colour are represented in coming-of-age films.

I am drawn to Khan’s work not just because it moves and shakes an industry foreign yet familiar to me, but because it resonates as important activism work without bumping a fist in your face. Her work is poignant. Her themes are urgent. Her voice is sharp and articulate. after HOURS, the IGF award-winning game, is a full motion video game about a young woman who was molested as a child and suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder as a result of those traumatic experiences. “By spending a night alone with Lilith in her bedroom and subsequently, her head, players learn Lilith’s story by adopting a double gaze: that of the player witnessing Lilith’s story and piecing together why she behaves and responds as she does and, to an extent, the gaze of Lilith herself,” Khan says.

Khan creates awareness in a subtle way, by allowing the player to play and escape. She introduces and activates much-needed conversation and dialogue through gaming.

Khan’s work and the themes it touches on speak to the likes of Igshaan Adams and Haneem Christian. This has to do with the fact that they are all behind the lens. Behind the piece. Behind the screen. Their voices are loud. Their opinion and stance are noted.

I have always thought of video games as an escape. A few hours to not think. Khan, however, wants you to work on the playground, and in turn forces you to be present and participate in social issues, making your escape time a time where you experience a conscious awakening. This is needed as a counterattack to the world’s passive and nonchalant approach to traumatic and abusive environments. 

Two months ago, Khan was a part of the, “Virtual Violence: Do video games change our behavior?” discussion on Doha Debates Podcast. On the question “Do you think graphic video games affect a player’s behavior?”, Khan touched on how the gamer’s behaviour in the gaming space would not necessarily be okay in the outside world. That is precisely what her work does. It gets you by yourself. It gets you online. Active. And if, for a brief moment, the gamer were to snap back into flawed reality from their utopia, they can ask themselves, “Is that really what I think is okay? Have I gotten too comfortable around this, with this, am I this?” 

Khan sensitises a desensitised world and demonstrates the transformative power that gaming holds.

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