‘Dubai really is a land of fantasy… one that brings the futuristic to the now.’
As a beaming Mark Azzam utters those words, one can almost draw parallels between the city’s creative genius and his own imaginative journey into the world of gaming.
A commercial pilot by profession and the founder of Back to Games, Azzam aims to bring the centuries-old tradition of tabletop gaming out of isolation and embrace it as a community celebration.
The self-confessed geek, who has been an ardent fan of role-playing game ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ since he was 4-years-old, the playing culture has been rooted in our societies for centuries.
‘Human beings have been playing games for 8,000 years,’ he says. ‘Games like Kalala in Africa or chess in Iran were used as tools for war 2,000 years ago. It is part of our human culture.’
Times have changed, of course, with generations now planting themselves in front of mobile or computer screens when they want to play.
The Canadian national explains: ‘That is exactly what we are trying to change with a store such as this; we create a social setup to take people out of their isolated existence of playing alone. Places like Back to Games harbors communities.’
Is Dubai ready for this, one wonders. Ask Azzam and he replies: ‘Dubai has an amazing gaming community. The Dubai Tabletop Gamers are 100-member strong, while the Gulf Role-Playing Community has 500 members.
‘In fact, Dubai loves role-playing. Some would say it has a parallel graph to the city itself. Dubai is about creating.’
His words hold credibility as the 3-day Middle East Film and Comic Con throws opens its doors at the Dubai World Trade Centre today, celebrating pop culture, cosplay and anime.
As Azzam throws the dice, signaling his turn, we quiz him whether there’s a board game he would like to give a Dubai makeover.
He replies: ‘Definitely be Hotel Tycoon (Monopoly-like game). Although, Hotel Dubai would be a fitting name.’