Playing the hajj, from the comfort of home

for muslims The making of had While this year’s pilgrimage runs from July 7 to July 12, the first leg is easy enough: hop on a plane to the dedicated terminal in Jeddah. Then they take a bus or taxi for the last 85 km to Mecca. But for generations of pilgrims, the journey was difficult, expensive and fraught with danger. The journey often took months. Not everyone made it.

Tyler Kynn, now an Islamic history teacher at Central Connecticut State University, was looking for a way to bring the past to life when he remembered a computer game from his childhood. First released in 1971, “The Oregon Trail” introduced a generation of American schoolchildren into frontier life in the mid-1800s. It revolved around a group of settlers traveling in covered wagons from Missouri to Oregon, forcing players to think about finding supplies and water, trading and just staying alive. The multitudes of American millennials who played the game will remember the many, many ways to die on the journey.

In collaboration with a friend and based on travelogues from 17th century Ottoman pilgrims, Mr. Kynn developed ‘The Haj Trail’. It is a browser-based strategy game packed with historical details. Players can choose the role of one of five characters, from an Ottoman princess (the easiest) to an impoverished widow (the most difficult). Travel companions provide assistance, as well as mercenaries and animals you encounter along the way, such as the White Gyrfalcon (pictured). As in “The Oregon Trail” the challenges are many. Bandits steal food, money and goods from pilgrims; water purity is unreliable; bad transactions can lead to bankruptcy.

Despite the game’s sometimes frustrating difficulty, Mr. Kynn’s students were soon hooked. Gameplay made travel in the 17th century more accessible than “giving them a book and saying, read these 100 pages of an account where the guy says ‘I’m getting robbed here’.” Teachers from as far away as Malaysia and Anatolia have come across the game online and have used it in their classes. Mr. Kynn’s goal is to make the role-playing game free and widely available for educational use.

Its appeal doesn’t come from pretty graphics, but from the game’s multi-layered texture. At each stop, players have the chance to explore local shrines. They can gossip in coffee houses, pick up valuable tips about the route ahead, or go to the local market to barter goods. They are often confronted with trade-offs in time, risk and resources.

This year, Saudi Arabia has limited the number of people allowed to make the real one had pilgrimage to just 1 metre, well below the pre-pandemic peak of 2.5 metres. And for non-Muslims interested in the Islamic world, the had will be banned forever. “The Haj Trail” provides a way to experience some of the magic and perils of one of the world’s greatest journeys, albeit from the comfort of home.

Leave a Comment