Friday, February 17, 2006

Darfur is Dying

Yesterday in my office, postcards appeared for Million Voices for Darfur, which urge the President to follow up on his "not on my watch" promise written in the margins of a report about the Clinton administration's failings on Rwanda. (Unlike the much forwarded Reuters image of the President writing a note asking for a bathroom break, I was unable to locate a digital image of the President's note.)

To draw attention to the crisis in Darfur, where taking photos without a permit is forbidden, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has given "Disposable Cameras for Disposable People." Low tech solutions may be the best response to raising consciousness about the mass killings, even of tribal refugees in aid camps, but some are trying to use technology by confronting the non-newspaper reading young public with "serious games" about the mechanics of genocide.

For example, MTV has sponsored a video game design contest at "Darfur is Dying." The games vary from abstract manipulation of geometric shapes representing political stakeholders to more complex representations of villages or the landscapes over which social actors must run for water or run for cover. (A more sophisticated MMORPG called "Africa" is also apparently in the works.)

Strictly speaking, some of the Darfur is Dying "games" are unwinnable, as they are for the desperate inhabitants of the region. Unlike the feel-good Food Force game from the U.N., which has been previously reviewed in this blog, additional interventions from the player are needed in the political sphere.

I tend to be wary of "serious games" that flatten out the rhetorical complexities of deliberative discourse. On the other hand, even relatively simple Flash shooter games like September 12th are already sending political messages. September 12th is a simple shooter game, in which trying to shoot terrorists -- and in the process demolishing buildings and killing civilians -- only creates more terrorists. The option not to shoot creates possibilities for reconstruction and healing and can even be the initial strategy of game "play."

Without interactivity, you can also send a message with a "game," as this Iraq Game that was widely disseminated by online Arabic news outlets does. However, this scenario of the Iraq war seems dated, albeit prescient in predicting pan-Arab (and pan-Islamic) conflicts in response to U.S. aggression.



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