Darfur activism meets video gaming

The ongoing violence in Sudan's Darfur region has spawned many forms of activism. The goal is to increase public awareness of the conflict, in which hundreds of thousands have died and more than two million people have been displaced.

Now, that activism is going online, in the form of a video game entitled Darfur is Dying.

The idea of a Darfur-related video game came from mtvU, the music video giant's network for university students.

The network has an ongoing campaign to raise awareness of the situation in Darfur. But last October, executives decided that they wanted to add a new component, something that would hopefully increase the level of student activism.

'Under your skin'

"The first part of activism is getting something under your skin, and having a personal identification with it, and the immediacy of playing a [video] game can often do that," says Stephen Friedman, mtvU's general manager.

The network partnered with the Reebok Human Rights Foundation and the International Crisis Group. Together, they offered a grant of $50,000 (£28,000) to anyone willing to make a video game about Darfur.

Susana Ruiz, a graduate student at the University of Southern California, answered the call.

Ruiz had been working on a possible game project about the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s. But when she floated the idea to colleagues, some of them scoffed at the idea that such a game could be successful.

Then she heard about mtvU's announcement.


"What MTV did was sort of told me that there someone that was like-minded, and that was just unbelievable," says Ruiz.

So, she switched gears, and decided to make a game about Darfur instead of Rwanda.

Her goal was to create a game that put people in the shoes of a Darfurian refugee.

She spoke with people who had worked in the refugee camps, and with genocide experts. Then, she teamed with fellow students to develop a game design and prototype.

MtvU put that prototype up on its website along with a couple of other entries, asking visitors to choose their favourite. Ruiz's game, which she titled "Darfur is Dying" won. We must not be afraid of putting people in the shoes of groups or people or individuals that are not comfortable, that we don't like, or think we don't like," says Bogost.

He adds: "It's very easy to look at any one side in this conflict, and say these are the good guys and these are bad guys, but if we've learned anything in the 21st century already, it's that maybe there are no good guys and bad guys anymore."

"Darfur is Dying is a work in progress," according to the game's creator Susana Ruiz.

She wants to see that situation first-hand. Ruiz hopes to travel to the region and incorporate what she experiences into future versions of "Darfur is Dying."

pdf: http://www.darfurisdying.com/



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