El Cyber: A Timeline of the Evolution of Egypt’s Gaming Culture

‘World of Warcraft’ is one of the most popular and well-known games amongst avid gamers. Image credit unknown.

Video games are an inevitable part of everyday life, even for those who aren’t avid gamers. Surely the majority of the people reading this have experienced some form of online gaming; it is, after all, a chance to temporarily escape from reality, embark on adventures, or, simply to feel like a hero overcoming outstanding challenges. 

Nowadays especially, gaming culture is an integral part of any society in the world; however it differs in importance, reach and capability from place to place. Although there are many unifying aspects to gaming, it is particularly interesting to note how it has adapted to and taken shape in accordance to the culture that surrounds it. The passage of time is also especially interesting to keep in consideration when taking a closer look at how Egypt’s gaming culture has taken shape and evolved over the years.

The age of the internet cafe

A typical computer from the 90s. Image via Reddit.

With the rise of internet cafes in the 1990s in Egypt, came a rise not only in internet use for various purposes, but also in online gaming. People, especially the younger demographic, would flock to their neighborhood internet cafes and spend hours on end ‘surfing the net’ – from engaging in the social media that was available at the time (msn, hi5, myspace, etc.) to talking to relatives abroad and of course, playing online games.

Video game culture was of course, already widely present and available throughout the 90s, but the internet introduced avid gamers to a new world of gaming, full of various novel possibilities. This era introduced us to games such as Medal of Honor, Red Alert and Warcraft III – and on a general note, games started to get more sophisticated, both in content and graphics, creating an overall more realistic feel to gamers. In addition to this, the internet also allowed the possibility for gaming to unify like-minded individuals across the world who share the same passion for these virtual escapes through a sort of global web. 

The evolution of home internet, the rise of gaming

Dial-up internet made internet widely available for households. Image credit unknown.

As internet evolved however into being readily available in people’s homes, the need for internet cafes decreased in the sense of being a place where people would go and simply ‘surf the web’. As more and more people started to gain access to internet at home, internet cafes evolved into cyber cafes, offering those who enjoy online games a place where they could come together, play and compete. 

And thus, this is when Egypt’s gaming culture truly started to take shape. Such was the case with their internet cafe counterparts, a young demographic still seemed to flock to their local neighborhood cyber cafe, but it was majorly for the purpose of gaming. Eventually, as their main purpose of existence was for gaming, these cyber cafes seemed to pick up a largely male demographic and ‘el cyber’ (the cyber) became the go-to place for young male Egyptians to go and game or simply just hang out with their friends. 

“Back then, I used to skip school in order to go to the cyber and compete with my friends,” says 28-year-old Amr Ihab, “gaming became my life, and now I even work in the e-sports field.”

Egypt’s gaming community takes form

Slowly but surely, Egypt’s gaming community started to take form – so much so that casual gamers started to get distinguished from hardcore gamers and this divide sectioned those who would visit cybers for a friendly game or two with friends, from those who started to get into competitive gaming.

A still image from the popular game Silkroad. Image credit unknown.

Although ‘el cyber’ is still a common hang out spot for many who seek a fun escape with friends, hardcore gaming is a world of its own. While both causal and hardcore gaming encompasses spending a lot of time playing various games, casual gamers usually partake in a single game mode, whereas hardcore (or competitive) gamers compete with each other.

Back in the day, when more serious or competitive gaming started to take shape, online games such as Silkroad, Tibia and World of Warcraft were popular amongst young gamers.  

An economy that hinders

Undeniably, Egypt’s gaming culture has bloomed and continues to grow with time. However, as is the case with most things in Egypt, the gaming industry here is still always a few steps behind the rest of the world. 

A huge part of the reason as to why that is lies in the simple fact that the country’s economy and current capabilities hinders potential growth. The prices of much of the equipment needed for gaming are hefty, as a standard gaming PC can cost up to 7,000 EGP to just operate one game (some games have different hardware requirements than others), whereas one can spend up to 15,000 EGP for a gaming PC that will only last up to a year before needing to get upgraded. Nowadays, spending a day at the cyber can cost an average of 150 EGP.

Moreover, the PlayStation 4 console alone costs between 6000 to 8000 EGP, while one game averages between 800 to 1000 EGP, also rendering the investment a hefty one for the average Egyptian.

An idea of how much some PS4 games for personal use cost here in Egypt.

In addition to this, the country’s general internet capabilities (when compared to the rest of the world) is quite slow. In fact, according to an article published on Ahram Online in January 2019 in which it showcased results of a 2018 report by Speedtest that ranked internet speeds across the world, Egypt ranked 146 out of 150 countries for fixed broadband download speeds and 95th for mobile Internet.

Taking these necessary aspects for growth into consideration, gaming culture may not have reached its full potential in Egypt – however, it is safe to say hat it is readily and steadily on the rise. 

Gaming culture today

Gaming culture in Egypt today is very much alive and well, and the country even hosts various gaming events such as Esports Summit – the country’s biggest competitive gaming tournament, and Insomnia – an international casual gaming event.

There are also a number of well-known cyber cafes that have stood the test of time and made a name for themselves in Egypt, such as Game Zone in Heliopolis, SnD in Sheraton, Garena Cyber in Nasr City and Rampage in Alexandria – the most famous of which however, is Nasr City’s Esports Lab. 

A look inside Esports Lab in Cairo’s Nasr City area. Image courtesy of Esports Lab official Facebook page.

Esports Lab boasts the largest amount of PCs (140), as well as four private rooms and an unparalleled high internet speed. The quality of its hardware is also especially noteworthy, as the cyber cafe has made efforts to host some of the most advanced gaming hardware available in the country.

This almost magical temporary escape from reality has proved to be so much more than merely ‘playing games’, it is a sure way for people to feel a sense of thrill and adventure in the midst of everyday life. Perhaps what is most noteworthy when it comes to gaming, is the fact that people can be whoever they want to be, it is a different form of self expression and release, and everyone gets to be a hero.

*Featured image courtesy of Pexels

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