Ian Bogost’s write-up on “Darfur is Dying” for Serious Games Source argues some key similarities and differences with The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Ico, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and his very own Disaffected!
One of the unique properties of video games is their ability to put us in someone else’s shoes. But most of the time, those shoes are bigger than our own. When we play video games, we are like children clopping around in their parent’s loafers or pumps, imagining what it would be like to see over the kitchen counter. As I argued in my last column, this trend corresponds with video games’ tendency to fulfill power fantasies. Video games let us wield deadly weapons. They let us wage intergalactic war. They let us take a shot on goal in the World Cup final. They let us build cities, and then they let us destroy them.
Darfur is Dying, created by USC graduate Susana Ruiz as part of her MFA thesis, is a game that breaks this tradition. In one part of the game, the player takes the role of a Darfuri child who ventures out of the village to a well to retrieve water for his family.
In Darfur, weakness is all the player ever gets. There is no magic to invoke, no heroic lineage to appeal to; strength adequate to survive is simply inaccessible.
I have numerous objections to the way Darfur is Dying represents the current political situation in the Sudan, most of which relate to how the game (and really, most American media rhetoric about the region) ignores the historical and political context for the current violence. But the game’s water foraging dynamic offers an important lesson for designers of serious games. If such games are meant, at least in part, to foster empathy for terrible real-world situations in which the players fortunate enough to play video games might intervene, then those games would do well to invite us to step into the smaller, more uncomfortable shoes of the downtrodden rather than the larger, more well-heeled shoes of the powerful.
Perhaps in 1982 the world was not ready for a video game about the loneliness and frailty of an extraterrestrial. But, oddly, we were ready for a film about it. E.T.’s role in the video game crash of ’83 may or may not be overemphasized, but certainly we have used its failure as part of an ongoing excuse to represent only power, and never weakness in video games. Critics might argue that frail situations are not fun. They might argue that feeble characters do not wear shoes anyone wants to wear. And that may be true. But when it comes to the world we inhabit today, isn’t it the vulnerable— like E.T., or more strongly, like the Darfuri—who demand our empathy?
Again, complete article here