I read my classmate Chuck’s blog about the two games he chose  for this module and I was shocked to learn that there is a game entitled “Darfur is Dying”.  Jesus.  Seems like the words game, Darfur and dying just wouldn’t fit together in .  Chuck says he gave it the old college grad school try and in the end it was pretty depressing. You think?!  The premise of the game, according to Chuck, is this:

Here’s a real change of pace. This was a “viral video game” designed to educate players about the plight of refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The first assignment was “forage for water” and I had to pick one of eight characters for this job.

Wow. Sounds like a real gaming good time…  Chuck says that at one point, he was told:

“It’s very uncommon for an adult male to forage for water because he is likely to be killed by the Janjaweed militia. Choose another camp member to forage for water.”

There is no denying that there is a horrible situation going on in Darfur, but at what point does the appeal to get folks to “care” more become downright exploitation?   Remember the “Christian Children’s Fund” commercials with Sally Struthers some years ago where she’d be walking around all cozy and comfy in her nice clean clothing, looking particularly well-fed, as children from various countries damn near walked on beds of nails with their bare feet?  All in an attempt to get us to send a donation. I didn’t like it then, with real children and something about this “Darfur is Dying” game makes me remember those bad old days of watching Sally Struthers parade those kids around.

Chuck does a great job of describing just how badly this game deteriorates into ridiculousness and a shameless snatch at your heartstrings.  So much so, I didn’t even bother to click on the link he provided to “play” the game myself.  He writes about attempting to complete another mission:

I picked 12-year-old Jaja instead, only to find out on the next screen that I was going to send him out where he would risk being attacked and possibly killed. “But you must do it in order to provide water for your community,” the game said. Great.

Jaja didn’t last long outside the camp, so I had to pick another character. This time it was 13-year-old Poni’s turn. I tried to zig-zag my way to the well without being caught by roving militia members patrolling the area, but I couldn’t complete the mission.

What’s even more worrisome to me about the premise of the game is the fact that when read Chuck’s description about “zig-zagging” his way to a well for water, I actually chuckled.  Not what the game designers had in mind I’m sure, but the way that Chuck wrote it elicited a bit of laughter from me, which makes me feel as though the gams has in effect cheapened or lessened what the victims in Darfur are experiencing.

My verdict.  The designers are slightly guilty of exploitation.  As Chuck mentions there are a number of resource on the site that allow visitors to get involved and take action. Why not just include some videos that allow users to watch some actual footage of the situation there and then take action? Why the game that is certain to end in failure?  Almost makes it seem pointless to do anything at all.  Nice try, but not quite gaming gold.