GAMING IN THE FACE OF FEAR
In 2018 Borderline Offensive organized a gamejam in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. Game designers and artists from all over Europe teamed up to create a boardgame in 48 hours.
Their goal: tackle polarization in society and foster healthy discussion about immigration through humour and laughter.
One of these games is Super Refugee, made by a team that included filmmaker/designer Isaak Kraft van Ermel (Netherlands) and artist Salam Al Hassan (Syria/Germany).
Now the project has a spiritual successor in digital form: Salam and Isaak once again teamed up, this time in close collaboration with students from Communication & Multimedia Design at NHL Stenden University.
Over the course of several months students would develop 5 game prototypes with their help.
In Yara’s Journey players take on the role of Yara, a young girl travelling by herself, and Yusuf, a smuggler trying to get as many people across the Mediterannean as possible.
Yara’s story is played with cards. Her deck has a limited number of cards, which after use get discarded in the Discard pile. Also, the player can only have 5 cards to choose from at a time.
On the cards are written various responses Yara can use in conversation ranging from positive to negative.
Yusuf's world is different from Yara's, reflected in the bird's eye perspective of his gameplay. To beat the game the smuggler has to overcome many challenges and is obligated to make decisions that affect his morality.
Does he take refugees with him for free, or does he charge extra to help repair his boat?
Diaspora is a singleplayer, narrative driven game that turns the familiar cliches of immigrants and refugees on their heads.
Players take on the role of people fleeing from Europe to the Middle East, tracing the steps refugees took, but in reverse.
The game takes place in an future where war is ravaging Western Europe.
Players are given a choice of various Western European characters and find themselves in a picturesque, Mediterranean town on the coast, trying to figure out how to make the trek across the sea.
The game takes a look at stereotypes, projecting them on to the player characters, and putting them in situations actual refugees may have experienced.
The complete game would cover the journey from Western Europe to the Middle East. Players will choose a character and, with a group of side characters, set off on their trek.
Along the way the story and characters will lampoon stereotypes and the irony of the reversed situation in an effort to keep spirits high.
Super Refugee is a game played with a large group of people in school classes and the like.
The goal of the game is to foster discussions between players and let them reflect on the choices they make while playing and their consequences.
Players log into the game using their smartphone and connect it to a larger television in the room.
They're assigned a random character who have specific skills that may aid them tackling certain situations, and try to make the dangerous trek to safety.
The game is divided in different rounds or situations, wherein characters might shine, or fail miserably. These situations draw from real life examples.
Failure may very well end up in death.
At the end of every round players are shown their scores, what happened to the different characters, and are given the choice on where to go next.
The idea is that the game allows for downtime to foster discussion among the players.
A Thousand Miles in Their Shoes
A Thousand Miles in their Shoes plays like a Visual Novel.
It has a non-linear structure that can result in one of three different storylines.
The motivation behind this game is to confront the player with the harsh reality a refugee has to face on a daily basis. What does a refugee see, experience, lose or have to endure during their travels?
How do you handle the pressure and take risks hoping to gain a better life and what do you do when you lose it all in the end?
Players can choose their path by making choices of what they want their character to do.
It also has a strategy aspect that takes the form of managing money, food and water.
The goal for players is to make the trek from their home country, to a safe haven.
The map can be randomly generated at the start of each game, making every playthrough unique.
Each hexagon can present an event players will need to successfully navigate.
The Koalas' Refugee Project
The Koalas' Refugee Project is a narrative experience with the goal of fostering understanding and empathy with the plight of refugees.
Throughout the game players face difficult choices inspired by real live events and research.
During the project we learned that a lot of people are interested in hearing stories from refugees and think that, once they know more about the subject, the more they can understand and empathize.
"Yeah, how was your night?"
When we started work on the characters and story we saw that there’s a lot of similarities between people from Western Europe and the Middle-East.
They experience the same emotions, love their families the same way. The only difference is that they get confronted with wildly different situations.
Situations alien to us.
Our idea is to put people in the role of a refugee, and give them an idea of what kind of situations and choices they have to make.
Choices that might be dehumanizing, and give them a goal nearly impossible to attain. Always living on the razor’s edge.
We wanted to create a bond between the player and the characters, by putting them in their shoes right from the beginning to show what kind of people they are.
There’s not a war yet in the beginning, just different weather and a different culture.
By easing players into the experience like this they’ll be able to form a connection, and hopefully be able to understand the emotions they go through when facing difficult decisions.
(original text by Wouter Koopmans, translated & editorialized to English)
Sikko Cleveringa | CAL-XL
Project Coordinator & Facilitator
Isaak Kraft van Ermel | STUDIO PUSHPLAY
Producer, Designer & Consultant
Salam Al Hassan
Illustrator & Consultant
Every student and team that developed the prototypes
Communication & Multimedia Design Leeuwarden
Arnold Helmantel (Tumba Leeuwarden)