Smartphones and the internet are two important pillars that make survival possible for most millennials and adults in metropolitan cities. Most of us dread and would fanatically hope that the internet connection does not go down or that our smartphones don’t malfunction. In either of the two scenarios mentioned, our world is officially in crisis and we do our best to get the internet back up by any means necessary.
While most of us will be busy trying to fix these issues, some of us may take the opportunity to take some time off and then return back to the pillars eventually.
The thing we must note here is that these pillars are nothing more than indulgences born from a sense of security. They're relatively petty things.
We don’t have to worry about anything else in our life, do we? If our internet dies, we can switch providers, if our phone dies, we buy a new one. It’s all cool in the Millennial world, a new adventure that we can narrate to our friends at school, college or workplace about the horror we faced as our internet and smartphone decided to die just when we decided to sit down for lunch or coffee.
I'm not saying that all is hunkydory in a millennial's world. There are issues, always, but they're usually not of a life-threatening nature. If you have a smartphone and a fast internet connection and that's all you're worrying about, you're not thinking about having a roof over your head or food to eat. You're probably wondering which restaurant you'll order from or whether the AC in your home is working.
We go on about living our life one day at a time in a protective bubble of sorts, where there are only a few world-shattering things that can disturb the flow of life for us.
For the average person, a smartphone is a means of connectivity with friends and family. We ponder over our next status update or WhatsApp story, we experiment with filters on Instagram, wonder whether 'duck face' or a 'peace' sign is the way to go for our profile photos (Or maybe both?), we listen to music, laugh at cat videos and so on. This is our reality.
We don't realise that there is another world out there, where technology like a smartphone and internet can be critical to survival, where a call can mean the difference between life and death, where a photo of someone might be the last you'll ever see of that person. It's a different reality.
This is where ‘Finding Home’ comes in, and it can be extremely jarring to our sense of reality. Finding Home is a mobile game that jolts you out of your comfort zone. You may not emphasise with whatever is depicted in the same but whatever you see there is compelling and shocking. Finding Home is not the first smartphone game in the now popular ‘lost phone’ genre, but it takes the formula and transforms it into something more: A message.
For the ones who don’t know, ‘lost phone’ games usually mimic the interface of a mobile phone. The idea is that you found that phone just lying around and you happened to pick it up. You have the freedom to go through everything that is there on the smartphone, including the call logs, SMS messages, emails, photos, videos or anything that may be present in a normal scenario. You would need to interact with the people who send messages or make calls on the phone to make the experience more engaging. Many games have tried the formula, with the most recent and popular example being ‘Mr Robot’ game by Telltale Games.
Finding Home is different. The first thing you will notice is the use of audio, video, photos, the battery life of the smartphone and messages to weave a strong narrative unlike any that you're familiar with.
The story follows the life of a 16-year old girl called Khatijah who likes to be addressed as ‘Kat’. She is part of the Rohingya muslim community, an ethnic minority. Its people are living as refugees in Kuala Lumpur after being driven out from their homes. The narrative follows the problems that she faces as a refugee, the daily struggle for survival, the fact that a smartphone is the only thread tying the family together, etc.
The game starts as a simple conversation between Kat and her brother Ishak as they struggle to get into Malaysia from Myanmar. Within 5 minutes, the 16-year-old is separated from her brother in a horrifying video which hits you right in the face. We won't spoil the story for you, suffice it to say that it pulls at your heartstrings in ways that another medium cannot. Finding Home somehow manages to make the narrative feel more personal than any other medium.
The thing about this game, nay, experience, is that even though the character of Kat may not exist in the real world, the photos in the app and the conditions depicted are real world conditions. People live in such harsh conditions, without the safety and sanctuary of a home, without anyone waiting to serve them food, to care for them. The Rohingya Muslims are a real community that has faced discrimination and genocidal raids in Myanmar for years.
The app was developed by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refugee Agency. It took about four months to develop the app. The narratives were constructed from interviews the agency conducted with two groups. There groups comprised of youth and adult refugees from the community that are currently living in Malaysia.
The interesting thing that I noticed in the app is that the UNHCR hasn't made a deliberately shocking or horrifying story. There are terrifying moments, but if anything, the overall narrative aims at a rather upbeat and positive story. A story of struggle and survival, but one of hope as well.
In the course of her journey, Kat connects with a number of people, meets strangers who are kind to her, she somehow gets in touch with the UNHCR office in Malaysia and so on. The app does brilliant work in highlighting the kind of work that UNHCR does in Malaysia. It's a good plug for the program as well as the plight for the Rohingya Muslim community.
The app includes links to the UNHCR website, where you can volunteer, donate or learn more about the refugee crisis in Malaysia.
While speaking to Mashable, Richard Towle, a UNHCR representative in Malaysia said, “The refugee story is often a deeply personal one and difficult for people to understand.” He further goes on to add, “We hope that this application will allow a viewer to walk a mile in a refugee's shoes in order to understand what they go through every day in order to find safety.”
Just to give you some perspective, there are about 1,50,000 refugees currently living in Malaysia and about 56,000 of them are from the Rohingya community. Of these, about 35,144 of the refugees are under the age of 18.
This is not the first time that the UNHCR has made a mobile app that takes on such an issue. It did launch the “My life as a Refugee” app back in 2012, which forced users into positions where their decisions would be life or death decisions. This is not the first such foray into creating an interactive experience with humanitarian underpinnings, and it certainly won't be the last.
Finding Home is more than a game, it's an experience, a message to raise awareness. Who knows, it might end up motivating some of us to step out of our comfort zones and actually do something about the world around us.
This 'lost phone' style narrative attempts to get the message across by a mechanism that we're most familiar with. In the future, we're sure to see variations of the genre in augmented or virtual reality, experiences that will force us from our reality into another, terrifyingly real one. Such experiences will, hopefully, force us to acknowledge the very real struggles in the world around us and maybe jolt more us into taking real action.
You can download Finding Home from the Google Play Store for your Android device. The iOS version of the app will arrive 'soon'.
Published Date: Apr 29, 2017 10:57 am | Updated Date: Apr 29, 2017 10:57 am