Journal 1: Mechanics of a refugee game

Journal 1: Mechanics of a refugee game

The mechanics of a game can portray even more than the game’s story.

Some games can portray loneliness or the joy of being lost just through their mechanics. When a game decides to use a set of rules instead of other available options, these rules are chosen to convey an experience. We hope to do the same with our game.

How will it play?

Right now we’re describing Kakuma as two-thirds 80 days and another third of resource manager like This War of Mine.

How does that work?

Well, at the beginning you’ll be in the role of a refugee or a group of refugees, trying to flee their initial location and reach a safe destination. There will be certain countries catalogued as safe havens and your goal is to reach one of them. To do so, you’ll need to travel across several countries, always choosing carefully your next step.

The trick? Each step of the road will need your characters to spend a certain amount of money, nothing is free, and even if you choose to walk you’ll need to buy food and water. You’ll need to take decisions and make concessions: going to a refugee camp may mean nearly free food and shelter, but it may decrease your opportunities to continue your journey or may make you more vulnerable to other groups and individuals. For example, a refugee camp may be bombed, you may be exploited or, if everything goes well, maybe you’ll need to think of the rest of your life in a refugee camp.

The gameplay will alternate between choosing your next destination and experiencing it through text and different options, like a combination of 80 days and a dating simulator. Depending on the choices you make, you may discover new destinations, routes and open entirely new ways or goals.

Simple? Some countries will build walls to prevent access of refugees, other will approve laws to push them out and, in other cases, what was considered a safe haven will stop being so. In the end, being a refugee is not only the quest for a place where you can be safe but also a race against the clock.

What resources will I manage?

In our current model, you’ll be managing 3 resources: Physical health, mental wellness and money.

  1. Money: Most of the time you’ll need money to move from one place to another and buy food. Travelling by plane may be much more expensive than walking, but it will be faster and safer. The cost of living will increase as you get closer to your destination, so you’ll need to plan ahead. You can save money by choosing the most cost-effective options of transportations, sleeping outdoors or fasting. All of these options can have an effect on your physical health and your mental wellbeing.

    You’ll be able to obtain more money through work, but it’ll be illegal for you to work in many countries, so it’ll be difficult and risky. In most of your destinations, you’ll find opportunities to make more money, but you may have to discover if you’re willing to do anything keep your family and yourself safe.

  2. Physical Health: It means having enough energy and the required physical condition to keep going. Skipping meals, not sleeping enough, or being wounded may lower your health momentarily or permanently. If at some point it reaches 0, your character will die. Health can be recovered through good rest and eating well.

    Some routes and conversation options may be limited by your current health status.

  3. Mental wellness: For refugees, their experiences may come with a great psychological trauma. To prevent it, it’s crucial to avoid extreme shock, being the victim of violence of losing control over your future. The experiences you live along the way may leave scars that will heal or not, and they’ll limit your options of travel or interactions (others may not be willing to help or hide you if you seem to be disturbed, or the clearest course of action may not be available if you’re not capable of thinking clearly).

    Losing your sanity will automatically mean failing to fulfil your objective in the game, even though depending on the situation, it may result in different endings.

The goal

The goal is to make it easier to understand why some people may want to keep going after Turkey and not to spend the rest of their lives in a refugee camp.
Or how difficult it is to answer the racist rant of someone asking why are you invading their country.
Or how random and unfair is the result of any decisions in any point of the way.

Our goal is not to turn this game into a grief porn experience, but being careful of not portraying being a refugee in a superficial and unfair. Hopefully, it will be hard and frustrating because that’s what we want to transmit. But also full of small moments that make you smile or laugh out loud.

We’re working closely with asylum seekers, refugees and volunteers to obtain a balance, but we’re aware that, with such a sensible topic, we may make mistakes.

We hope you’ll be there to start a conversation with us about those issues, and hopefully, solve them.


Journal 0: Why we decided to develop a game about refugees

Journal 0: Why we decided to develop a game about refugees

There are two kinds of people.

Those who think video games are art, and those who think they aren’t.

Actually, I lied, there’s a third kind of person: those who think that video games, as any form of culture, have the potential to be art, but that the video game tag doesn’t immediately make them art. More or less the same way Citizen Kane is probably art, while Catwoman probably isn’t.

There are two kinds of people.

Those who think we should grant asylum to all the people flying from death and war that reach our borders, and those who think we should keep them as far as possible to be safer and more prosper.

There is, maybe, a third kind of person: Those who recognise the situation as incredibly complex, but find it difficult to stand the moral outrage of watching millions of people trying to survive and being treated as cargo.

In both cases, we’re part of that third group.

We firmly believe in video games as the ultimate tool to build empathy, and we understand the refugee issue mainly as an empathy problem. When the public discourse around humans leaving their lives behind revolves around terrorism, unemployment, rape or an agenda towards the Islamisation of Europe, we think we are falling into an absolute lack of empathy. When the problems generated by a minority are generalised in order to discredit an entire population, we are failing as human beings. Not only are we building a separation between us and ‘the other’, but we are also failing to put ourselves in the shoes of these people.

“Once they get to Turkey they’re safe, anything else is to improve their economic status”. “Most of them want welfare from the government”. “They should go to Saudi Arabia, with the rest of Muslims”. “If they have iPhones probably they weren’t in such a bad situation”.

We fail at thinking how it must feel to spend years in a refugee camp, under constant uncertainty and danger.
We fail at understanding that some people may want more than surviving another day.
We fail at understanding that some people want a future for their children.

Because it’s not us. If we were in danger we would do whatever it takes to protect ourselves and our families. We would never let anything bad happen to them. But they’re not us. And then the logic fails. All is left is “We’re alright, and they’ve got the short end of the stick. Let’s thank God for that, and meanwhile, fuck them”.

Probably a video game won’t change that. There will always be an “other”, and there will always be somebody receiving the worst part. But if we can build a game that makes you think, that moves you and makes anyone rethink the ideas they have about refugees. If we deliver an honest game, we’ll have delivered.

Kakuma (working title) is being developed by Bruno Rodríguez with the help of a group of amazing friends, connections and people interested in the project.

Expect more updates in the future.

Meanwhile, if you want to help the project or give your view about it, contact us through Twitter or Facebook.