a moral MTV (no, really) May 2, 2006Posted by joshg in activism, morality & ethics.
mtvU has launched Darfur is Dying, an activism game designed to convey what is happening in Darfur and to help rally support for further aid and political action.
The game does a good job of getting the point across through gameplay. There are two parts to the game: foraging for water, and helping the village. The water foraging involves travelling to a well while avoiding Janjaweed militias, who drive towards you from the distance in armed pickup trucks. The limited view of the land, the always-present view of the militia coming from the distance, and the rhythm of constantly running and hiding all do an excellent job at conveying the perpetual fear and sense of helplessness that the people there live with every day.
The village management portion of the game adds a much-needed depth of context to the experience, recreating vital parts of village life such as farming, maintaining shelter, and staying healthy. In the village, you focus on building, and more importantly rebuilding; at set intervals, a dialog pops up saying the village was raided by militias again. In their wake you must rebuild homes and replant farms. I like how this captures a sense of the large-scale harm that such violence has on an area; local and regional economic growth is nearly impossible, as you have to fight just to maintain and rebuild what is constantly being destroyed. As well, the rebuilding efforts all use up water, which you must replenish by returning to the water foraging game. I will nitpick a little about the interface, as it would've been nice to simply be able to walk diagonally to get to a field instead of alternating two other directions, but other than this it's very user-friendly.
While thisn't a religious game, it reminds me very directly of the work done by some of the Christian organizations that I admire most. There's no denying that religious groups have long been at the front lines of situations such as this to bring aid, from old Catholic hospitals to the present-day activities of groups such as MCC. (Not to say that only Christian groups provide aid, but I'm more familiar with Christian examples.) As well, there's an increasing movement within Christian missionary organizations to become more "holistic"; that is, those groups which were traditionally just focused on savin' souls are now realizing that bringing people aid as well as truth is simply the right thing to do. After all, Jesus said that giving the least of these a cup of water was just as though you gave it to him, but I don't recall him saying anything about giving the least of these a tract.
Anyway, it's good to see games with a moral message like this entering more directly into the mainstream consciousness. Though, it would've been nice to see the game direct the audience to somewhere where they could provide financial aid for those groups on the ground in Darfur, instead of pointing to political activism alone.
Perhaps religious-based aid groups will soon get on board and use activism games like Darfur is Dying, or the earlier WFP game Food Force, to promote their activities and tell the world why it's so vitally important to support the cause of helping those in need.