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Last Updated: Friday, 9 November 2007, 20:10 GMT
Gamers get taste of refugee life
By Thomas Lane
BBC News, New York

Screenshot from the UNHCR's online game, Against All Odds
Players must guide their character through various challenges
Type "free games" into an internet search engine, and you'll find literally thousands of links to classics such as Pacman and Space Invaders.

This week, however, these games are joined by an unusual addition.

Rather than chasing ghosts or fighting aliens, Against All Odds guides the gamer through the experience of being a refugee.

The game was designed by workers in the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Its various challenges include escaping from a hostile town, guiding your character across a dangerous border and staying alive in foreign lands with unfamiliar languages.

Target audience

"We found that children start forming ideas on refugees and similar issues at around the age of 12 to 15," said Katherine Rodriguez-Norman, who helped develop the game. "This seemed like a cost-effective way to target that audience."

Screenshot from the UNHCR's online game, Against All Odds
At one level players must sign away a series of rights

The game certainly pitches for that age group. In one section, the player goes through the awkward challenges of making friends in a new classroom.

On another (somewhat more gruesome) level, the player must sign away a series of rights; failure to comply results in blood splashing across the screen.

The game was developed in UNHCR's Stockholm office using money from a local donor. In 2005 staff released it in Norway and Sweden, and set about encouraging teachers to use it in middle school civics lessons.

Ms Rodriguez-Norman says the feedback was largely positive; the main criticism came from teachers who found some levels too hard.

"The target audience is the children," she told the BBC. "And they find these games easier than the adults. Besides, those levels show what it is like to escape from a police state: it is meant to be a challenge."

Overall the feedback was enough to prompt translations into fresh languages. Spanish, French, Danish, Finnish and Icelandic versions are all in the pipeline.

The newly-released English translation can be found online.

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