Mallika Dutt is the founder and CEO of Breakthrough, an organization that "uses the power of media, pop culture, and community mobilization to inspire people to take bold action for dignity, equality, and justice." Breakthrough has been successfully integrating social justice messages with pop culture and media for years now, whether it's the 3D video game ICED (I Can End Deportation) or the ad campaign Ring the Bell, calling on men and boys to end violence against women. Their latest project is America 2049, an interactive Facebook game that takes place in the dystopic, but not-so-distant future. I spoke with Mallika about the process behind developing America 2049 and how her organization uses popular culture and media to start conversations about human rights.
A vaccination card from Ellis Island and a protest poster against INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services) reading "Fight Aids, not people with AIDS" aren't your average crime-thriller clues. But in America 2049, a new Facebook game tackling issues of racial profiling, immigration detention, sex trafficking, and more, they're not just pieces to a political puzzle, but actual American artifacts leading you to connect the past to dystopic future—with the hopes of changing our present.
I have to say, right off the bat, that I have had an outstanding time during this run. It is not often that so many topics of my interest come together in one place as they have here with so many people to discuss them. Gaming, like many elements of pop culture, is a great opportunity to look at many aspects of Social Justice in a broad spectrum, and I was most appreciative to the Bitch team here for giving me a space to present this topic for your amusement.
I've sometimes wondered if the key to getting better video games made is getting a diversity of people into the industry to help commandeer the production. "Just imagine," says I, "if we got together a diverse team of socially and progressively aware people in one room—surely things would even out and games would start to be friendlier to people who are not the so-called primary demographic." If only it were that simple.
One of my endless grievances with games is the ridiculous notion that just because I am playing a woman character I must have this desire to shake my derriere in three inches of Spandex or, better yet, the notorious chainmail bikini. There are few things that make less sense to me than how that the same armor that fully covers and arms any male avatar has my female Draenei running around in a thong.
I don't go looking to video games for entirely accurate depictions of reality. It is an escapist hobby for a reason, as I think it is for most people. I enjoy getting away into a world of possibility and imagination. It probably explains my tendency towards RPGs. I want to enjoy myself. I want to be immersed in a story. Sometimes I want to be the hero. Sometimes I want to raze the ground behind me. Sometimes I want to slay the dragon. Sometimes I want my revenge on the character who really pissed me off.
here has been a quiet roster of characters from the annals of video games who have done the woman gamer crowd fairly well. If we are going to be stuck in the gender binary for characterization we might as well be looking for the best ones we can find. For every five or six tropes and hypersexualized characters we have, there are a few that shine for various reasons.
When I was a wee sprite of a thing, I remember changing my idea of what I would be "when I grew up" frequently. I wanted to be a fisherman like my Papa and uncles at one point. I believe I spent some time thinking that being a firefighter sounded cool because the hose truck looked like fun. I am sure there may have been some time where I thought that baby-sitting or raising kittens might have been fun as a career choice. I never imagined my choices were limited, because no one ever told me they were. The Imagine line of games from Ubisoft, however, almost seems to be telling young girl gamers that they have limited wants, indeed.
When the Nintendo Wii introduced the balance board I was over the moon with excitement at the thought of bringing exercise into my own home. I brought the thing home and happily plugged it in. Home gyms are expensive, and gaming is a pricey hobby. Two in one! How could I go wrong?