ESCAPE FROM WOOMERA FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: Will EFW be an “online game”?
A: No. EFW will be a single player game and won’t be playable online, though it will be downloadable from this site. The prototype is being built using a First Person Shooter game engine - as a modification of the game Half-life, so you’ll need Half-life installed on your PC to play it. We plan to build the full game on an open source game engine (ie you won’t need Half-life).
Q: When will the game be released?
A: In April we received $25,000 in funding from the Australia Council for the Arts to research and develop a prototype and write a design for the game. We expect to have finished this pre-production phase in October.
To produce the final game though we’ll need to secure a lot more funding, and we’re estimating it would take a year of development time.
Q: Where will I be able to get a copy? How much will it cost?
A: Well, you won’t be seeing EFW in Electronics Boutique, that’s for sure. There’s no way in hell a commercial game publisher would touch us either. But then, that’s kind of the point! We’re enjoying ourselves having complete creative freedom in the development of this game.
The finished version of EFW will be freely available for download from our site. We might also access alternative independent distribution networks to get our game out there for those who don’t have high-bandwidth internet access.
Q: By basing the game on the perpetration of illegal activities such as breaking out of detention aren't you inciting people to break the law?
A: This raises a further question:
“By basing the game on the perpetration of illegal activities, such as locking up people without trial, aren’t you inciting governments to break the law?” Fortunately for those worried that the game would encourage refugees to break out of detention, or would incite governments around the world to break international law and defy UN conventions, these ideas show a real ignorance about the nature of videogames. Giving a player agency within a fictional game world – allowing them to make decisions and act out roles - is not at all the same as incitement or advocacy. Though there have been many studies done to try to prove a causal link between virtual actions in game and the real–life actions of the game player (for example "do violent videogames make kids violent"), no link whatsoever has ever been found. If we apply Ruddock's logic to the world's top–selling game for over a year (how many gamers do you know that haven't played GTA3?)– Grand Theft Auto III– a game in which the central premise is breaking the law, we'd presumably be seeing a massive increase in car thefts, prostitution and murder, and we’d have to believe that Rockstar games (the developers) condone such activities in real life. And finally, let's stop to consider exactly which law would be broken in an escape from detention. Yes, believe it or not – it's actually legally a crime punishable by imprisonment (oh irony of ironies!) to step outside a detention centre to ‘tresspass’ on Australian soil.
Q: Wouldn't making a game on this subject trivialise something that is a very serious issue?
A: We're attempting to create a play–space in which people can have access to and engage with this issue in an unprecedented and unique way. We're serious about the issue and as game developers we're serious about games and game culture. We're confident that there is a community of gamers out there who are passionate about their medium, and who are looking for an innovation in the nature of game content. Unlike the makers of, say, Grand Theft Auto III (who deserve enormous respect for their achievements in gameplay terms) we seek to engage player's minds – emotionally, ethically, intellectually – not just their trigger fingers. When non–gamers think about videogames they often confuse content with form. Just because some of the most high–profile commercial games might be considered "bad taste" for their 'gratuitous' use of violence and no brain content it doesn’t follow that the interactive nature of the videogame medium itself is a barrier to the representation of serious issues. Early films were predominantly slapstick comedy and pornography – but noone today would deny that the film medium itself is robust enough to carry challenging content. However, obviously we're not just trying to create a straight–forward documentary game or a dry educational tool. Neither was Roberto Benigni when he made the made the award-winning film "Life Is Beautiful". That's why the film was condemned by a section of the Holocaust remembrance establishment – for the supposed lack of gravity in his depiction of the Holocaust experience.
Believe it or not, the truth is we're sick and tired of games that create heroes out of professional killers and US marines. For us, refugees are some of the greatest and most legitimate heroes of our time. And we're not prepared to hold back and leave this facet of their story untold because the lives of these remarkable individuals collectively constitute an 'issue' so serious that it is supposedly 'untouchable'.
Q: But isn't this game the height of bad taste?
A: Well, that seems to be implying that we're trying to make a joke – a joke in poor taste. And actually, you could say that by consciously making accessible a fully immersive experience of an environment that has been deemed strictly off limits by the powers–that–be is the height of political satire. But no, that’s not true; the height of political satire was when the eighteenth century Irish writer Jonathan Swift suggested that the English solve the problem of poverty in Ireland by simply encouraging Irish peasants to sell their children to the rich as a tasty alternative to pork. Interestingly, 'A Modest Proposal' is considered the greatest piece of political satire in the history of English literature – and not a 'bad taste' trivialisation of the plight of the Irish. Hezbollah, who fought on the front line against the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, don't seem to think that the videogame is a medium that necessarily trivialises their fight for freedom against 20 years of Israeli occupation. In fact, they made a game themselves.
Meanwhile, Under-ash is a popular game with kids in the middle–east (including Palestine). It documents the first Palestinian Intifada. Interestingly, every time your character gets killed in this game a voice-over informs you that your corpse will be identified and members of your family will tortured and possibly killed as a result. Bad taste? Or a much-needed dose of the truth in the world of videogames?
Q: By having escape as the main premise (and the title!) of the game aren’t you compounding the view of many Australians that asylum-seekers are criminals?
Let’s say we took the “escape” bit out of EFW. Let’s imagine we said to all the refugees that have ever tried to escape detention: “we’re not going to put your stories in our game because *you guys* give asylum-seekers in general a bad rep”?
Well, it’s not going to happen. There’s no way we’re going to betray these guys by tacitly expressing disapproval of their actions like that. Because we, like a sizable section of the Australian public, don’t disapprove at all. We recognise that these actions are *not* criminal: when you break an unjust law it’s not breaking the law at all. We think it’s the kind of bravery and heroism to be shouted from rooftops, not to be quietly forgotten.
But hey here’s an idea: how about somebody make a film “The Great Decision Not To Escape”, just to reassure people that not all WW2 POWs went around trying to escape. I’m sure it would inspire us all.
Years before our project was known about Australians had the opportunity to make up their own minds about those many, many asylum-seekers (already known as “illegals”) who staged widely publicized breakouts from detention. It’s not as if we’re making up some sensationalised, fantastical scenario and slandering refugees: break outs happen frequently – it’s the truth. If you don’t like the reality of break-outs and the interest they generate then go ahead and debate tactics openly with the escapees themselves and take issue with what their actions are doing for public relations. Somehow though I doubt they’ll stop attempting to save their own lives just to keep the “asylum seeker issue” simple enough for the more conservative refugee rights campaigners to package it up nicely for white middle class consumption. If we pussy-footed around the truth and watered down our solidarity just in case the already racist and ignorant right might find something more to whinge about, or in case compassionate conservatives have their image of refugees as fluffy docile little World Vision sponsorees polluted by the truth then we’d be a bunch of unprincipled saps. And we’re not, as it happens.
Charles Chaplin was told by the Jewish filmmaking establishment in Hollywood to not make his film “The Great Dictator” because it might increase anti-semitism even more and piss off the fascists. He made it anyway.
One final word on this question: Paternalism. It sucks.
One form of punishment used in detention is to place detainees in isolation cells. Isolation can last from hours to months. Detainees are kept in tiny cells that contain a mattress on the floor, a toilet in the corner and depending on the camp, possibly one or two surveillance cameras. Detainees have reported cases of being stripped and put into isolation naked with the air-conditioning turned up full bore.
"A younger generation of artists are coming of age who have always played games and reject the barrier imposed between fine art and games."
– Anne–Marie Schleiner, as quoted in the New York Times in August 2001