Politics, Games for Change and Darfur

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The Games for Change game Darfur is Dying was developed by graduate students (Susana Ruiz, Ashley York, Mike Stein, Noah Keating, Kellee Santiago) from the University of Southern California’s Interactive Media Program.
This piece of viral information was sponsored by MTV and Reebok and is a simple idea; run, hide, run, find water and get back to camp. The camp is structured to provide information about how it is to live in such a refugee camp. Probably similar to many such ‘storage’ places for displaced and hunted persons around the world (Tibetans, Congans, Palestinians, Burmese, Chechens, Zimbabweans…the list is long). This is my primary criticism of the game Darfur is Dying; if it is trying to place the player in a position of subjectivity in relation to the crisis in Darfur it does so in a very gentle way, such as with the third person graphic relation as the chosen avatar runs between bushes and rocks to get water. It is a long way to the water (5 kilometres!!) and the struggle comes through to the player by the long time it takes to find the water and get back, while not much else is happening on the screen (armed trucks approach slowly along the same trajectory each time). Being caught by the armed militias only results in a text screen, breaking the narrative of the game but giving the player contextual information on Darfur. The village gives us some idea of the horrible logistics of what is going on in the Darfur region of Western Sudan (a country that is no stranger to war, violence and suffering) but to gather a deeper perspective one must look elsewhere.
However, I think the concept has some sound components to it. Using new media to spread awareness of social and political issues obviously has promise. The political and viral nature of Darfur is Dying and the Flash graphics reminds me of The Meatrix. It will never be a game played for fun, but it is perhaps a good introductory text to the topic (my knowledge of the Western Sudan, its history and peoples is not really extensive). This raises interesting issues on games as texts, information sources and learning objects.