Can MTV help end the suffering in Darfur?
Recently, GamePolitics reported on the concept of advergames, video games designed to raise awareness, whether it be about the latest sports sneaker, how "evil" corporations are, or the consequences of bombing terrorists in crowded villages.
Now, Julian Dibbell of the Village Voice sends word that mtvU (MTV for university/college students) is running a competition called Darfur is Dying to develop advergames that raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
mtvU and the Reebok Human Rights Foundation have pledged "up to $50,000 toward the development and marketing of the winning game." Visitors to the website vote the winner from the finalists' demos.
The finalists are "The Village" (you are returning home to your burnt and devastated village, navigate the threats), "Fetching Water" (avoid the Janjaweed militias as you try to make it to the well and back), "Guidance" (guide the tribes to food without allowing them to approach and fight each other), and "Shanti Ambassadors" (sneak into the Janjaweed barracks and drain their tanks of fuel before they can attack the villages). The first 3 are flash games, "Shanti Ambassadors" is a Windows-only game.
Julian notes that these games are quite violent, but the violence is directed *at* the player, not the reverse. Would this distinction earn them a less stringent rating, when they are finally marketed? Julian asks "which use of game violence is sicker: the game companies' exploitation of adolescent aggressive impulses in pursuit of unit sales, or MTV's exploitation of adolescent social conscience in pursuit of ad revenue... Say what you like about Grand Theft Auto or Mortal Kombat, but neither of them was ever so cruel as to delude anyone that playing a game might change the world."
J: I disagree in part. I think that this contest, like LiveAid, BandAid, and now Live8, is another tool in getting the message out about the situation. Does playing the game solve the problems? Of course not. Does it raise awareness about the situation? Yes. It's a start. You can't drum up support to solve a problem people aren't aware exists. And the youth of today are more inclined to watch the news on MTV thanon CNN, so this would certainly be one of the better ways to reach them.