While procrastinating and not writing any of my big papers due next week, I came across this BBC article on a game designed by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. It's intended to be a tool for teachers, a sort of 101 on what the UN
Didn't quite know what to expect (SuperMario? Wolfenstein?), so I went online and played it.
The entire game is clicking on items in different rooms: click on the items you want to throw in your knapsack when the soldiers knock on your door, click on the rights you sign away, click on the people you ask for help, click on the doors you open when you try to find your interpreter, etc, etc.
The characters are clearly supposed to be children or youngish people, as are the hurdles the player-as-refugee goes through (like school). Overall, I think it actually does a decent job of highlighting a hypothetical, from police storming into the hypothetical house, to being interrogated, to fleeing and nobody helping, to coming to a new country and having to navigate different aspects of everyday life. In the first third of the game, it also subtly explains what the UN might consider an indicator of refugee status qualification. (It does this during the "interrogation" section, where if the player doesn't give away rights and agree with the government, there are smacking sounds and blood drops appear... That was a little disturbing, though rooted in reality.)
I'm assuming the intended audience are, to be overly blunt, privileged American children who have never met an immigrant or a refugee. With that in mind, the "case studies" presented in the game are interesting, as are the choice of countries and particular situations to highlight. (The seven profiles in the second part of the game are all either from the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East, or the subcontinent/South Asia --gee, any subtle religious undertones?-- and I'm positive that's not a representative sample of asylum-seekers in the U.S.) And the nonthreatening lighter skins tones of the game's characters probably make the stories a little more palatable for the parents of the intended audience. Of course, I'm cynical in my old age...
What was particularly cool was that the game didn't stop with the nighttime escape from the home country: it took the player through the confusing process of integrating into a new home in a different country. It made the player try to understand what it might be like to not understand a language, to be the recipient of mean comments, and to try and start a new life.
It's an interesting and fairly creative introduction to the idea of human rights, the UN, and refugees.
And yet another way to procrastinate. The papers will be written! Sigh...