Darfur is Dying is a free online video game created to build awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and motivate people to take action in addressing it. I discovered the game through an episode of 3 Minute Ad Age which featured segments of a keynote presentation made by Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, at the recent Games for Change annual festival in New York.
Mr. Kristof has become an enthusiastic proponent of video games as a force for engaging mass audiences. He was so impressed with Darfur is Dying that he will produce an online game to accompany the publication of his new book, Half the Sky — Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women World Wide. While Antonio Neves, the 3 Minute Ad Age host, calls this a new form of journalism, it’s really more about cause-related communication or education.
Mr. Kristof says that one of the things that makes the Darfur is Dying game so effective is that the player identifies emotionally with an individual Darfurian. It didn’t feel that way to me. To play the game, you first select from one of several Darfurian avatars, but they are no more than cartoon figures. Perhaps if a fictional profile for each of the figures had been provided, it might have had that effect.
I also wondered if transforming such things as foraging for water or hiding from the militia into game objectives could potentially backfire and desensitize people to the plight of Darfurians. But perhaps I’m over-thinking that.
It’s a great idea with great potential. Nobody will be spending hours playing Darfur is Dying in order to “keep their camp functioning,” the stated goal of the game. But of course that isn’t the point. I imagine the greatest value of this game, and others like it, will be to engage a mass audience of young people in social issues and causes — an audience that is less accessible through more traditional communications channels.