Professor earns attention with PATRIOT Act board game

In “The PATRIOT Act: The Home Version” board game, players can be penalized for being Arab, sent to Guant?namo Bay and accused of sedition.

The game, created by Michael Kabbash, assistant professor of art at the College, has been featured in nearly 200 newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian, a British newspaper. An Internet search for the game will produce hits from blogs and newspapers across the world. In addition, it became the subject of a controversial FOX News television report.

Kabbash said that when he first created the game two years ago, no one was talking about the PATRIOT Act.

In fact, the game didn’t get much attention until the Associated Press (AP) story about the game ran in The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer on March 18 and 20, respectively.

MSNBC has also taken an interest in the game. They requested a copy of the game to use on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.”

Kabbash said he created the game to give a “humorous context” to the issue.

The game is based on “Monopoly.” It replaces the “Monopoly” man with John Ashcroft, former Attorney General, and jail with Guant?namo Bay. To win, a player must make it all the way around the board while keeping as many civil liberties as possible.

Kabbash said that the game does not attack President Bush and is based on things that have happened in the news.

For example, players may be forced to go back 10 spaces for “wearing a ‘Give Peace a Chance’ shirt to a shopping mall during wartime,” something that Kabbash said he saw on the news.

Kabbash, who is a Christian of Arab decent, faced criticism and hate mail because of the game after FOX News aired a story about it.

Some of the hate mail, according to Kabbash, asked him “to go back to Saudi Arabia or to go to Guant?namo Bay.” He called the hate mail “angry,” “bigoted” and “racist.”

“(The authors of the hate mail) are assuming I want to let the terrorists free,” he said.

His true purpose for creating the game, he said, was to get people talking about the PATRIOT Act. Kabbash said his artwork usually focuses on “parody of consumerism and satire.”

Despite the international attention the game has received, Kabbash said that few students at the College seem to know about it besides art students, who were notified by a department-wide e-mail.

“I think (the game) is great and ‘Monopoly’ is a great way to present (the PATRIOT Act),” Matthew Erdely, senior graphic design major, said.

“(Kabbash’s) venue for discussion is more effective than writing a politically charged essay,” Scott Latyn, senior graphic design major, said. “And now that I equate John Ashcroft with the ‘Monopoly’ guy, it’s tough to take him seriously.”

Despite the political nature of the game, Kabbash said that for a long time he had considered himself a moderate. Today, he said “I can safely say I’m a liberal.”

Kabbash said that the political climate in the country shifted and “forced people to take sides.”

Kabbash indicated that this shift started in September 2001 with the World Trade Center attacks.

After the attacks, there was, according to Kabbash, “a huge climate of fear.” The Arab community, in particular, “had a lot to be afraid of.”

Kabbash started an ad campaign in 2001 to show Arab Americans as true American citizens.

He said, however, that infringements on civil liberties “affect everybody” and not just an isolated portion of the population.

“There needs to be security, but there needs to be oversight,” Kabbash said.

In the game, he criticizes the National Security Agency (NSA) for using wiretaps too often. Players can be forced to move back six places because “your calls for Chinese take-out and the Home Shopping Network have been recorded.”

Kabbash said that if the government is watching him, which, according to the AP article, he suspects they may be, then “(NSA) is wasting their time.”

The AP article also said that Ashcroft, when asked about the game at a recent crime conference in Florida, had no comment.

Latyn said, “I thought it was hilarious that someone actually posed the question (of whether NSA is watching Kabbash) to (a bureau spokesman), and he ‘declined to comment.'”

Kabbash said he is not looking to make a profit from the game. It can be downloaded for free at Kabbash’s Web site, “Graphics for Change,”