Artist Leena Kejriwal’s MISSING campaign, which aims to raise awareness about child sex trafficking, found an unusual ally in 2016—gaming. The MISSING game, developed by Kolkata-based Flying Robot Studios, has today crossed the one million mark across app stores.
This number is significant for a game that intentionally makes the player live out the struggles of a trafficked girl. You play the role of a young girl attempting to escape the brothel she’s been put in. You engage in the sex trade to save up money, look for clues that could get you external help, run through dark corridors desperately trying to not bring any attention to yourself.
All in the hopes of finding freedom. When you fail, you’re censured, abused, and even violated. Along the way, the gamer learns about the harsh realities of the sex trade in India.
It’s an idea that Kejriwal and Parag Mankeekar, the founder-director of software company Neeti Solutions, share. Mankeekar is currently working on RealLives—a global simulation game that lets you engage with the lives of individuals in different parts of the world. – Source: The Ken
Kejriwal insists that the game has never been consumed the wrong way. “We’ve had people hate it because it’s frustrating, but they’ve always gone back, downloaded and played it again. Some of the gameplay is a little sketchy, not smooth, and that’s because it was made on a limited budget, but it only helped us build that frustration.”
The developer of the MISSING game, Satyajit Chakraborty of Flying Robot Studios, was “shocked” when he first understood how harrowing the game could be. “I was aware that this game would make people uncomfortable. Despite having made the game, to play it is a harrowing experience for me as well. That is the theme though. This game shouldn’t make you happy or energetic, it should make you [think].”
Chakraborty talks about how powerful a game like this could be, emphasising how the utility of games could really expand. “This is also a kind of entertainment. Tragedy. It’s powerful. The most acclaimed films are tragedies. Games don’t go that way. MISSING is a similar experience; it’s not comfortable at all. It wasn’t meant to be a comedy.”
Chakraborty’s notion of what a game can be is interesting because it goes against what the word “game” typically connotes. Ordinarily, it is associated with playfulness, frivolousness, something light, something distracting, something that sometimes allows for deep introspection, but, ultimately, exists in the world of fantasy.