Sex slavery is a difficult topic to discuss, and one that can be challenging to turn into a videogame. Inflatable Reality, a team of experimental game developers led by Brian Schrank, has attempted to do just that with a set of four games chronicling the experience of a Cambodian sex slave. Known as A Moment Free From Darkness, the experiences span four different technologies and game types in an attempt to grow empathy between the viewer and the life of the young woman being depicted.
The game is inspired by Schrank’s experiences living abroad and talking with women afflicted with the situations his games entail: “I lived in Cambodia for almost a year and paid prostitutes to teach me Khmer.” A Moment Free From Darkness is designed to highlight the experiences of the women and girls Schrank met in Cambodian brothels and on the streets, women who he views as being incredibly resilient and underserved by a privileged community. “These slaves need our help and deserve our admiration for persevering through a chain of traumas: being sold by their parents, shocking violence, coercion, endless physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, pregnancies, and STIs including HIV and AIDS.”
The four experiences that Schrank uses to express these emotions and circumstances span four unique platforms: mobile, PC, VR, and Apple Watch. Games 1, 2 and 4 are focused on empowering the character, and showing her engaging in the titular moments free from darkness—from imagining changing the color of her fingernails to adjusting the fringe on her dress. The third game, however, places the player into the perspective of the girl during the act of her own rape at the hands of a paying customer.
Focusing on the vibrancy of the women affected, and then highlighting the grotesque nature of their experiences, Schrank hoped to avoid the pitfalls of other serious games: “Most serious games feel flat and easy to emotionally dismiss because they are overly didactic, focusing too much on educating players about the underlying systems of a given topic rather than humanizing and subjectifying the experience of navigating such systems. So instead I hope to generate empathy, respect, and a subjective connection to these girls and women as they persevere through the abuse by creating their own moments of feeling centered and healing.” Placing the player into the lives of these women, both in their darkest moments and in the little slivers of happiness throughout the day, Schrank hopes to humanize their experiences for people who will never have similar moments of their own.
You can find out the information and downloads for all four games at the A Moment Free From Darkness website. If the plight of the young women profiled by Schrank’s game speak to you, he points to more action that you can do: “Many organizations fighting slavery are limited to the ‘educate, pray, and donate’ trend. One of the best organizations going beyond that is End Slavery Now. I asked them what we could do and they shared their action library (updated weekly) that can be sorted so you may specifically choose to fight sex trafficking if you wish.” You can find more about End Slavery Now at their action library online.
More on A Moment Free From Darkness can be found on its website.