Monday, May 08, 2006

Darfur: The video game?

The grassroots movement in this country to protect Darfur is interesting, to say the least. To quote Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times:
"It gets weirder: "CBS Evening News" decided that genocide wasn't newsworthy, devoting only two minutes to coverage of Darfur in all of 2005 - but there's excellent coverage on MTV's university network and in episodes of the TV show "E.R." set in Darfur. And one of the best presentations of life in Darfur is in an extraordinary video game developed with help from MTV and available free at In the game, you're a Darfuri, trying to survive as Sudan's janjaweed militias hunt you down. So that's how the response is unfolding to the first genocide of the 21st century: a video game is one of the best guides to understanding the slaughter, and our moral vacuum is filled by teenyboppers and movie stars."

Wow. There is actually a video game online that lets you pretend to be one of my friends over there surviving. You can choose characters, run for water, visit the health clinic, rebuild houses - all the while trying to avoid being killed or raped. I honestly don't know whether to throw up or leap for joy.

On one hand, it is so degrading that my friends and their very real struggle for life and dignity is being captured in a animated computer game. On the other hand, if it gets the youth of this nation interested, then perhaps it is good. At the end of the day, if the video game spurs young people to have a voice and donate money, then it is all worth it. But if at the end of the day, the Darfur genocide is just the plotline for a group of bored MTV fans, then no thanks, I want no part of it.

What do you think? In this day and age, is it approriate to make a video game of a current humanitarian crisis? Leave a me a comment or shoot me an email with your thoughts.


Todd Gwennap said...

You pose an excellent question, Scott. What are the moral and ethical implications of a genocide-based video game? Sadly, I think this is just one further digital misstep. While awareness of this issue must be raised, I do not believe this video game (or any video game, for that matter) is the proper channel. I think that this game will only serve to further dehumanize both the Darfuris and the Janjaweed. I hope that I am wrong, but I think this game will raise awareness for the Darfur genocide about as much as GTA raised awareness for urban crime. But I think there is an underlying issue here.

Much of the western world copes with this situation by dehumanizing. No one could imagine 400,000 dead, murdered, without seeing it firsthand. Faceless numbers, it's easier that way. Even more, we don't think of the Janjaweed as human. They have to be monsters. I mean, we are human, and we are not capable of anything like that, right?

How I wish I could affirm the answer to my last question! After thinking through the problem, philosophically, theologically, and biblically, I have come to one conclusion. Any one of us, apart from the regenerating love of Christ, is more than capable of committing these atrocities. We are all monsters. Only Christ can change a heart and kill the monster.

On a side note, I dislike the effort of much mainstream media to digitize everything. In that matter, I view this game in the same vein as the United 93 movie. I don't want my experience to be forever colored by some director's artistic license or some video game programmer's grad school project. I think that if we are to truly value human life, the imago dei, then we have to understand things on a human, physical, fleshly level, not some second-tier interpretation.

This Darfur video game will help me attribute as much humanity to both the Darfuris and the Janjaweed as GTA did to the countless cops and soldiers I sniped from the top of a building.

P.S. I have dial-up, so I haven't actually seen the game. Just a theoretical consideration of the moral and ethical questions posed by its mere existence.

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