Common Sense Review
Updated May 2013

Darfur Is Dying

Older game still drives home grim realities of refugee life
Common Sense Rating 3
Teacher Rating (1 Teacher Review) 2
Pros
Jarring and uncontrollable circumstances build perspective and fuel inquiry.
Cons
Tough subject matter needs real world context to ground students' perspectives.
Bottom Line
Despite its technical shortcomings and outdated mechanics, the game is a worthwhile experience that has perspective-changing potential when well-scaffolded.
Marc Lesser
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 3

Despite their simplicity, trips to fetch water at the well are tense and adrenaline-stirring. The map, where most of the game is played, is less exciting and feels a bit dated.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 3

Consistent with similar simulation games, kids can learn a lot from text-based details embedded in the experience, but the most provocative aspects of the game are experiential and emotional.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 2

Almost all supports are text-based, but trial-and-error play offers the most guidance. Basic meters in the bottom quarter of the screen track things such as health, safety, and water supply.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Assign Darfur is Dying as homework early on in a longer unit exploring human rights or current global issues (particularly if looking at parts of Africa). The game is better as an entry point than a culminating experience, but don’t miss out on the opportunity to use it before and after discussion to see how learners’ ideas about what's taking place evolve. If playing the online version during class, don’t forget that a browser is required for each player (no multi-player option), and so bandwidth and the Flash requirement might be an issue. As with any game, play it first to make sure that the nature of the content suits your learners and your goals, and to prepare necessary extension materials to offer students context.

To build on the experience, reverse engineer –- or have students reverse engineer -- Darfur is Dying as an offline game. In the offline version of the game, fold in different issues for players to tackle (e.g., disease or regime change). Divide students into families or assign different roles, and add variables (including random events and more current context) that deepen engagement.

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What's It Like?

Darfur is Dying is a Web-based simulation that offers students some perspective on the struggles of non-Arab citizens of western Sudan in the midst of the ongoing conflict that began in 2003. Since the game explores a serious humanitarian emergency -- and is many years old -- the call to action tends to upstage mechanics and polish. Players spend time in two main areas, a camp and the desert. In the camp, players manage the village's resources and water supply. When water runs out, it's off to the hostile desert for foraging. Here, the player searches for a well while hiding from menacing Janjaweed militia. When the player succeeds, the camp's resources are replenished and it survives another day. When unsuccessful, the player's character is captured and notified that a person in a similar situation in Sudan might face abduction, rape, and/or murder (all described in text without graphic violence).

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Is It Good For Learning?

What it lacks in design polish, Darfur is Dying makes up for with a provocative experience likely to pique interest, raise important questions, and build perspective. These three assets give Darfur lots of potential as a support for great teachers who won't mind filling in missing context and history. Make no mistake, there are extremely tough topics, so teachers must provide necessary context for students and be prepared to discuss kidnapping, genocide, and rape with their students. Also teachers should be prepared to explain to students that these issues aren't uniquely African or the product of Africans by showing them that these atrocities unfortunately cut across history, ethnicity/race, and culture.

Note that text is the primary vehicle for instructions, story, and most of the facts and testimonials about villagers in the camp. The good news is that the text also presents an excellent introduction to essential vocabulary for exploring global events: human rights, non-governmental organizations, and militia, to name a few.

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