When we play and watch eSports, it’s one of the purest forms of escapism unrivaled by pure skill and team planning. With each different experience, we can find ourselves in a new environment, enjoying new adventures and against the odds. We may be on a planet far, far away, and beyond our solar system. We could be deep under the sea, exploring the Mariana Trench. Or we could just be in the old Wild West with only a trusty six-shooter and a loyal horse for company.
There is another environment that is a perennial favorite with games developers that may not have the obvious appeal of any of these – the desert. As its name suggests, this can be an empty and barren place, most usually defined as somewhere that has less than 10 inches of rainfall or other precipitation a year. And yet, it continues to provide the backdrop to some genuinely exciting games.
This environment makes for the perfect setting for competitive play, as the environment removes unnecessary terrain and keeps things simple. A perfect setting for skill-based games. Of course, it’s not just the desert that proves to be so captivating. It’s also what has gone on in these environments for many, many centuries.
Perhaps one of the “earliest” examples set in a desert is Egypt Legend: Temple of Anubis. It’s a deceptively simple game that is as addictive to watch as it is to play. A lot of the interest comes from the Ancient Egyptian imagery that also features in other contexts like the Eye of Horus slot. In this, we are at the temple of the legendary god of the air with the reels showing scarab beetles, the iconic ankh symbol, and, of course, the eye of Horus himself. And, instead of destroying marbles as in Temple of Anubis, we are attempting to win cash prizese
“The Sphinx Temple by Amenhotep II” (CC BY 2.0) by pyramidtextsonline Egypt, albeit from many centuries later, also provides the backdrop for sections of Call of Duty: WWII which first launched back in 2018. In this case, the action centers around the battle that raged against the German Panzer divisions under the command of Rommel. Carried out against the classical backdrop of the pyramids and the inscrutable Sphinx, it’s certainly a very different theater of war – and one that has plenty of drama to accompany it.
A more up-to-date kind of desert warfare comes in the form of the Dust and Dust II maps in Counter-Strike. The latter was first added to all versions of the game back in 2001 and was considerably revamped in 2017. It possibly received this attention thanks to its popularity among players. These maps are iconic and engrained into eSport’s culture, and put the counter-terrorists in a position where they have to defuse a bomb. With so many gradients and corners to take cover behind, this is a perfect test of skill, location knowledge, and team communication.
Allegedly based on a Saharan-style landscape such as you’d find in the south of Morocco, it inevitably carries with it echoes of other real-life conflicts like Desert Storm. This adds a contemporary twist and brings us right up to date.
One could debate almost endlessly why desert situations lend themselves so well to the sorts of video games that are popular as eSports. The desert’s very blankness can mean there’s nowhere to hide. It can also suggest an almost post-apocalyptic environment. Above all, it represents an alien territory where the normal rules might not apply.
Above all, it just adds up to a captivating place in which to set many different kinds of games – games that satisfy many different kinds of players.