Indie Game of the Year tackles the issues of trafficking

Updated: Nov 27, 2016, 18:17 IST | Kusumita Das

Missing, a new role-playing game created by artist Leena Kejriwal, that tackles the issue of trafficking, has just won the Indie Game of the Year Award

A still from Missing
A still from Missing

The main road on which Leena Kejriwal's childhood home stood was the same one that led to Sonagachi, Asia's biggest red light district. The Kolkata-based photographer and installation artist recalls how, as children, the topic was off discussion, it was a route they were forbidden to take, no questions asked.

The childhood curiosity gradually transformed into a more concrete engagement with the topic in adulthood, as she went on to collaborate with NGOs and other organisations to address the menace of trafficking. Eventually, that led to her famous Missing Public Art Campaign which opened at the India Art Fair in Delhi in 2014. And now, riding on some extra monetary muscle, thanks to crowdfunding, a new dimension has been added to her campaign in the form of a game called Missing. It centres around a girl trapped in a brothel.

The player slips into the shoes of Champa and must go through the traumatic experiences she encounters. It's an escape story, explains Kejriwal, where Champa is on the run. The game, however, provides little recreational escape. "Yes, it makes you uncomfortable, it's meant to. We have not consciously designed it that way, the topic itself lends to discomfort," says the artist. The prime concern for her was that the game should be playable, and not preachy, but also contain enough material to drive home a point.

Leena Kejriwal
Leena Kejriwal

"It begins with Champa waking up in a brothel, not knowing how she got there. Initially, we had a prelude scene of her life in the village, but that part was not playable," adds Kejriwal.
While Kejriwal had extensively worked with victims of trafficking (and continues to do so), her game developer Satyajit Chakraborty interacted with them for the first time. "He heard their stories and handled it delicately, while developing the game. It's because the players are put in the position of the girl, they're able to relate to her so deeply. I want the game to reach everyone, even the man who engages in prostitution. Most times, he doesn't think about the consequences of his action," she says.

Developed for the Games for A Cause initiative, Missing just won the Indie Game of the Year award at the Nasscom Game Developer Conference in Hyderabad. Currently, it's available for free on both Android and Apple platforms. Kejriwal now plans to develop a PC version for schools.

"It's disturbing but not graphic and I want the game to reach children over 13. The psychological lure towards trafficking is powerful, because the incomes are staggering. I feel 13-plus is a good age to get educated on the topic," she says. Kejriwal also intends to use the game as a data collection device. "Boys in their 20s have told me how they are disturbed by Champa's story — they loathe the character of the brothel madam, Mashi. It's making them think about the background. Understanding the choices the players make while in the game, will help us address the problem at an instinctive level," she says.

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