My thoughts on “Syrian Journey” & why it’s problematic

Today I came across and interactive called Syrian Journey, it’s a “choose your own adventure” type of interactive game that allows the user to choose their own path if they were a Syrian refugee. The purpose, while very vaguely stated, is supposed to help the users to “understand the real dilemmas” of the Syrian refugees.

Syrian refugee camps in Irbil, Northern Iraq.

Here is the thing, this game/interactive is problematic to me for several reasons. The first is that no game will ever allow the users to understand the real dilemmas of Syrian refugees unless they have been one before. Games, and online interactives are introduced to the general public as if they will help with empathy, kindness and understanding. However, these digital experiences will never allow the users to empathize with the oppressed.

In fact, I argue that it is digital experiences such as Syrian Journey that trivialize the situation of the oppressed, thus taking away the lack of urgency and as a result deems it the “norm”. Digital experiences like this also attempt to normalize that the other side of the world is in fact oppressed, while we get be good people by trying to empathize with them through purposeless games.

Refugee camps in Irbil, Northern Iraq.
Syrian refugee camps in Irbil, Northern Iraq.

How is it right for us to think that these games are a good idea? let alone educational? The reason why many might think it is right and okay is because of the simple fact that they haven’t been through the refugee experience, nor have they witnessed it in real life.

That is called privilege. 

When students play with these interactives it takes away from their desire and need of urgency for a call to action. 

What’s the solution? 

Educate students in different ways. Open up the real world to them in order to see some of the aspects of Syrian refugees’ experience. For example, documentaries are a great way to introduce them to such topics. Another great way to help students understand such events is showing them interviews of real people who have been to the event and have experienced and/or witnessed some of the struggles and tragic hardships.

Teachers can also play a proactive role in helping facilitate a call to action for the students, such as a donation drive.

Project based learning is a great way to get students to do their own research and come up with their own findings and solutions to world events.

Helping students using the above ways invites students to be empathetic, educated critical thinkers. Because current events, such as what is currently happening in Syria are complex, and the people dealing with it are real people just like us. It’s important to remember that, because it’s easy to forget and see them only through a flat digital world.

2 thoughts on “My thoughts on “Syrian Journey” & why it’s problematic

  1. Rusul, I am so glad you wrote this post. Precisely in cases like this one where the intent appears to be one of learning and developing empathy, it is critical to explicitly say how and why the impact may likely produce other results. Here there is a very real danger of trivialization of the refugee crisis while users continue swimming in the warm waters of privilege. You also provide alternatives which is equally important for moving actions into more constructive pathways.


    1. Thank you Sherri! I agree it’s important to move these types of interactions to more constructive, actionable results. So what is the point of “empathizing” with refugees? To me, even small actions such as writing about these injustices by the students would have an impact.


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