(Updates reaction from ECHO in paragraph 9)
By Natasha Elkington
A few months ago I wrote a story about a controversial online game posted on Facebook called the “The City That Shouldn’t Exist” that was consequently pulled off the Web days after its launch amid claims it objectified refugees and lacked sensitivity.
The game developed by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) with funding from ECHO, the European Commission’s humanitarian agency, and designed to raise awareness of Dadaab refugee camp on the Kenyan-Somali border, is now back online but with some noticeable changes.
Some features have been removed such as Mr. ECHO's lover calling him "my hero" as he leaps out of bed on hearing an emergency siren go off. That was deemed too cheesy. You can still rescue or “drag and drop” your refugees as you do your supplies but instead of them walking towards a pile of bones, now they just walk towards a hole.
“My refugees were dying like flies because I couldn't work out how to drag'n'drop supplies. Haven't felt so stressed since I worked for ECHO!” posted Marianne Farrar-Hockley on the Facebook page hosting the game.
Winners of the game are no longer offered an expenses-paid trip to the real Dadaab. While the winning prize destination has yet to be revealed, all references to the 20-year-old camp have been taken out.
“We have taken out much of the drama from it because it is not really why we wanted to attract people,” Anders Knudsen, DRC's campaign coordinator, told AlertNet.
The aim of the game, which cost 208,000 euros ($302,000) of taxpayers’ money to develop, was to inform young people about humanitarian aid activities and highlight the plight of the 332,000 refugees living in squalid conditions.
But it came under attack from aid agencies on the ground, some arguing that the message of the game could be interpreted to mean they did not want Dadaab to exist.
“For the moment it is very sensitive because there are negotiations to extend the camp,” Julie Laduron, ECHO’s communications officer, told AlertNet.
"We disconnected the game from Dadaab (so as) not to create trouble in the field and with the refugees."
Both ECHO and the Danish Refugee Council admit this campaign may have missed the goal in the social media arena by trying too hard to appeal to young people across Europe while overlooking the feelings of the people in the camp themselves.
“I think it is much more legitimate to talk about a virtual refugee camp,” Knudsen said. “Making it a camp in the sky rather than any specific camp on the ground, that one we have learnt.”