Can a game about victims of trafficking in India raise awareness about the issue? The developers of the game Missing strongly believe so. Missing Public Art Project and Awareness Campaign is an initiative that aims to help rehabilitate victims of trafficking and the people behind that project are now working on a role-playing game for PC where you play as a trafficking victim.
This short game captures the hopelessness of sex trafficking victims, putting the player in their shoes by being intentionally designed to feel unfair to the player. Key events in that game are stacked against you because that’s how victims’ lives are, the developers say.
“The sheer hopelessness is one of the key emotional components, which we want to drive at through gameplay,” says Leena Kejriwal, founder and artist of Missing. “Missing: The Complete Saga starts from the protagonist, Champa’s, childhood, to her life as a survivor, and the trials she faces even after her return home.”
The mobile game was launched as an experiment and since it proved to be quite popular, the developers decided to make a full-fledged PC game. “We at Missing realised this was a very important space which should be addressed again with a longer, more immersive game play that tells you the whole story of a trafficking survivor’s life, not just her escape,” Kejriwal says.
Kejriwal believes that the medium of gaming allows for a more immersive, more powerful way to raise awareness than just watching a movie. “In a film you watch a story play out while in this game you would be playing as the main protagonist by getting into the shoes of a trafficked victim, you would be responsible for her future and experience her helplessness and frustration first hand,” she explains.
Missing: The Complete Saga was recently funded on Kickstarter and the developers have promised a game where you play as Champa — a victim of trafficking. The choices you make will influence the story and can result in a “completely different development of the main character for each individual player”. Kejriwal adds, “Your small decisions throughout her life will shape her destiny. Be it the skills she will learn, the career path she will follow, or even with whom she will fall in love.”
These choices will not be easy, Kejriwal adds. “But in this part of the world, some rules that shape lives are twisted, deformed and cruel. The choices in this game aim to mimic the harsh realities that are faced by individuals who become victims of trafficking, and also highlight the difficult choices one has to make to survive in the dark hole of sexual exploitation.”
The Kickstarter campaign that funded the development of Missing: The Complete Saga promises that the game will be released by April 2018. Most of the game’s backers are from the US but its Indian backers are mostly philanthropists and not gamers, Kejriwal says.
Getting the balance between storytelling and game design is not easy, particularly so for Missing: The Complete Saga since this game is about a serious social issue. Kejriwal says she’s aware of this and ensured that the game designer wasn’t cut off from the story.
“For me, even in the initial game, it was very important that the story was very true. For that reason I took my game designer Satyajit to meet survivors, to the village where we work at the ground level where there are girls who are going missing,” she says. “I took him to meet a survivor and somebody who used to have to prostitute herself and now she can talk about her life after in the red light areas of Calcutta. I made him walk into red light [areas] that he had never walked into before. It was very important for me that he understands the space that we were talking about – the innocence of the girls who fall prey to traffickers and the total frustration or the choicelessness of the girl within the red light.”
For this kind of a game to be accessible to all audiences, the developers also will have to keep in mind the sensitivity of the issue. “It was very important the game not be voyeuristic or graphic in any way and we followed that brief well at the same time we realised the importance of the game to be a game first,” says Kejriwal. “Unless it was a playable game, it would be difficult to have an audience.”
All proceeds from the game will be donated to the Missing Public Art and Awareness Campaign once the game is released, the developers say. This campaign, according to the game’s developers, has helped rescue and rehabilitate several victims of sexual exploitation. As the developers themselves put it, “The response so far has been good and we really hope we can make at least a dent in the present status quo.”