Symposium talks human rights through video games

Susana Ruiz and Angel David Nieves brought awareness to human rights activism through video games at Thursday’s 4th Digital Witness Symposium.

Susana Ruiz and Angel David Nieves brought awareness to human rights activism through video games at Thursday’s 4th Digital Witness Symposium.

Ruiz, who is a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California School Cinematic Arts, is a media scholar, designer and analyst.

She co-founded the design studio Take Action Games, which first launched with their first launched in 2006 with the multi-award winning game Darfur is Dying. A player must maintain a refugee camp through dangerous disruptions.

Take Action Games often works with NGOs and NPOs specializing in game design, activism and non-fiction story telling of social creation and social justice.

Ruiz was invited to talk to Capital Hill because the game gained so much attention from the constituents. Nicholas Kristof, a Columnist from the New York Times, described the game as “an excellent representation of life there.”

After gaining so much attention for the game, Ruiz continued on with further projects, including The Metropolitan Action Committee Against Women and Children (METRAC), an advocacy group based in Canada. Together, they made a game about teen dating abuse and gender stereotyping. The game explores the root causes of violence against women and girls. It also helps to introduce the METRAC community services toward the issues of violence against women and girls, and presents warning signs of violence.

Ruiz finds inspiration in working with individuals and organizations involved in systems thinking education regarding game media projects.

“Being able to see the specifics in an individual’s story is really crucial,” Ruiz said. “And then being able to pull back and experience the broader system or systems within which those specific situations and stories are inhabitant, that leads to a kind of awareness.”

Angel David Nieves is an associate professor of Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. He is co-director of Hamilton’s Digital Humanities Initiatives (DHI). He is currently an advisor for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture exhibit “The Power of Place” exhibit that will open in 2015.

His spoke mostly of his work with undergraduate students from Middlebury College on the Soweto Historical GIS (SHGIS) Project.

South Africa has a legacy of apartheid that caused long-term cultural trauma and impact on social life. The growing concern on the preservation of documents related to liberation struggle of the ‘70s has people questioning the makings of archives for township museums.

Development of a digital archive began while he was a faculty member of the School of Architecture Planning and Preservation in Maryland University.

He worked on building a historical GIS of Soweto, based on some planning documents he recently discovered in in the National Archives of South Africa.  He hopes to build the capacity consciousness on their community’s history by collecting stories of witnesses of the apartheid, and hopes that radical archives will help promote social justice and decrease racial violence.

Users can navigate the GIS and have a sense of the landscape while learning historical information. For example, users can explore a part of land that was once a wasteland, and see its historical growth and development. Users can explore the historical growth through dimensions of social, economic and political development under the apartheid regimes.

At the same time users are made aware of the complex issues of the apartheid movement that included dimensions of violence, resistance, and freedom.

Nieves is working on avatar creations for users to use as characters exploring the field environments.

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