Critique- “Against All Odds”

As we have seen in class, there are numerous public awareness campaigns on the migrant crisis circulating in the media. Most of them are in the form of videos, either accompanied by music and promoted by an artist, or artfully designed pieces designed to evoke an emotionally response from viewers. I decided to look into a campaign that is in a completely different form, a online game. “Against All Odds” is a 45 minute long simulation game focused on the process of a refugee escaping their home country, living in a border country, and applying for asylum and resettling in a different country. It was released by the UNHCR in Sweden in 2005, and has since been translated into 9 different languages. According to their website, the intended audience is 12-15 year olds because at this age “people begin to develop ideas regarding refugees and similar issues”. Their main goal was to educate this specific age group about the obstacles that migrating individuals face on a daily basis. In particular, they were trying to focus on in-school implementation, and having teachers incorporate this game into their lesson plans. On the game’s website, there are exercises to accompany each section of the game that teachers can work on with their students.

The game is split up into 3 different sections: “War and Conflict”, “Border Country”, and “A New Life”. Within each step there are 4 smaller checkpoints that the player must complete in order to move on to the next phase in the game. In the first section, the player presented with a series of contracts that show how controlling certain regimes really are. In order to progress, you must “Agree” to multiple statements like “I give up the right to vote” and “I confirm the police have treated me well”. Next you are faced with the task of gathering up necessary items before you flee your home, but are only given one minute to do so because the police are on their way to arrest you. If you are able to leave before being arrested, you must navigate your way throughout the town, at night, and avoid being caught by the police or tricked by undercover agents. Finally, if you are smuggled across the border, you move on to the “Border Country” phase. Here you must navigate an unfamiliar town with no money and find a refugee reception center. Once you are there, translation issues become incredibly apparent but eventually you find an agent and apply for asylum. While the application is pending, you begin school, where the communication barrier proves to be an extreme challenge. Luckily, you are granted asylum and move on to the final stage “A New Life”, where you begin looking into work opportunities to support yourself. In this phase you experience a great deal of prejudice, as people openly tell you that you’re taking their jobs and that you should just go back to where you came from. The game closes out with a series of conversations between you and your neighbors in your new apartment. The cultural differences are highlighted and you start to learn more about how cautious refugees need to be in these new situations. At the end of the game, the player is presented with a screen full of additional information and ways to take action by either donating or spreading the word.

The popular response to this game has been positive. In 2006 it was awarded the Austrian State Prize for Multimedia and e-Business and was praised for “building understanding, empathy, and concern for the plight of refugees in the player”. It has been applauded on numerous gaming websites and teachers all around the world have commended its construction and purpose. In a BBC article from 2007, one of the developers of the program said that the only negative feedback she has received was that some teachers said that some sections of the game were too hard. Her response was that “…those levels show what it’s like to escape from a police state: it is meant to be a challenge”. Overall, I do believe that the developers met their objective. The game was widely spread throughout curriculums and teachers reported their students increased knowledge of the subject.

I personally really enjoy this game and it’s educational benefits. I think it is an incredibly smart way to reach a specific population and teach them about certain migrant issues. It does a great job at laying out a general process of events and gives the player a very close perspective on what it is like to live as a persecuted individual. The way that is designed really makes you feel like you are the migrant, and I noticed that when, for example, the phone rang and I couldn’t understand what was being said, I became incredibly frustrated. I thought there was an appropriate balance between informative sections where you would read a bit about a topic, and ones where you were carrying out an action, like running from the police. I was engaged the entire time and also learned a lot while having a bit of fun. This platform offers an experience, something that I wouldn’t get from simply watching a video. My only critique is that this game can only be found on the UNHCR website or sites meant for teachers who are looking for resources for their classes. I wish it was available on more popular gaming websites because I feel like it would reach a much broader audience that way- not just schoolchildren.