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Published:July 8th, 2006 06:42 EST
Darfur is Dying

Darfur is Dying

By Krzys Wasilewski

How to help a nation hundreds of thousands of miles away from you? It is simple: play a game. While Darfur - Sudan's western province - is being battered by the 3-year-long civil war and atrocities comparable to those from the Rwandan genocide, several students from California decided to make a difference. They designed “Darfur is dying” - a computer game where, instead of butchering hordes of aliens, the player strives for live.

The game's goal is frighteningly simple: to survive. First, the player has to choose among eight characters – adults and children living in a refugee camp, somewhere in Darfur. Like other three million people, they too, had only few seconds to flee their homes before the governmental forces, called the Janjaweed (Men on horses), poured into their villages to rape, kill and burn. They were lucky. They escaped. But life in a refugee camp hardly resembles a rural idyll. There is neither enough food nor potable water so, when dusk falls, children and women must sneak out of the camp to look for sustenance. Men would be killed as soon as they set a foot out of the fence. Women are “only raped,” as one Sudanese official put it. In “Darfur is dying” the player tries to escape such a fate. Either as 14-year-old Elham or 26-year-old Sittina or six other characters; with a metallic canister, one desperately traverses the desert foraging for water. Armed to the teeth thugs riding around with Toyotas will do everything to make reaching the well an impossible goal. That they know no remorse becomes clear after the first failure. Brutal scenes of murders and rapes are spared. Instead, the player can read what happened to the caught character. “Girls in Darfur face abuse, rape and kidnapping by the Janjaweed. If she succeeds, the girl can bring more water back than a smaller boy, but less than an adult.” Having read this, the player faces the question: “As someone at a far off computer, and not a child or adult in Sudan, would you like the chance to try again?”

In another level, the player is taken to the camp. There, as 14-year old Elham, one becomes an eye witness to the daily life of the refugees. While looking for food and water, Elham walks through the camp and learns the stories of her neighbors. In front of a hospital tent, where the girl begins her mission, there is Amina's hut. Amina managed to escape but her children stayed in the village. When the Janjaweed militia eventually left, she went back to look for her relatives. She found one. Or, to be precise - she found only his head since her son had been beheaded. A little further is Fatima's home. She too, ran away, but first had been gang raped for several days. The longer Elham stays in the camp, the more such stories she hears. And with her, also the player learns the tragic truth of the Darfur conflict. But there is no time to think. The Janjaweed may attack the unguarded camp at any moment, the hospital runs out of supplies so most of the refugees die of easily curable diseases. Finally, Elham must leave the camp to find water again...

The conflict in Darfur has been ignored by the media for months, if not years. Throughout that time, over 300,000 people have been murdered or died of starvation. Three million people have fled their homes and had to look for a shelter in refugee camps across Sudan and neighboring countries. Scholars have written dozens of books on the conflict, politicians have made hundreds of promises. In the time that takes Elham to find a well (about 15 minutes, if she is lucky), several her friends and relatives die. One Internet game may not change the world. But, if at least one person who has played it remembers that Darfur is dying, the game will achieve its purpose. It will make a difference.

“Darfur is dying” is available on