We the Refugees Developer Interview

We the Refugees is Fresh, Engaging meta-Journalism

Sprocket Wagner ‘23 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

In We the Refugees, an upcoming text-based adventure shown off at PAX East, you play as a budding journalist going to North Africa to research refugees migrating to Europe. Players gather information and take notes, find sources and access to spaces, and possibly even journey with the refugees. The artstyle is crisp and distinctive, the writing is engaging, and the user interface is intuitive. One playthrough is estimated to take around 10 hours to complete, and with 3 distinct paths, the game has around 3 hours of content.

Writer and developer Jędrzej Napiecek originally had the idea in 2014 as a freshly graduated screenwriting student. The first prototype of the game took the perspective of the refugees themselves, but after a trip to a refugee camp, this quickly changed.

“We visited the Moria refugee camp in 2018, and we showed this prototype to refugees, and that was a crucial moment. I realized that this first prototype was pure naivete, and it was based on our imaginations and theoretical knowledge from books. It was not portraying the state of mind the actual refugees are in during this kind of odyssey.”

So the team at Act Zero started from scratch, deciding instead to go with a journalist as a protagonist. For Napiecek, this was a way to lend the game authenticity.

“After this visit to the Moria refugee camp, I realized that no matter how many books I read or conversations I have with refugees, I will never be able to portray them in a deeply authentic way. I will never know what are, for example, the relations between two refugees during this kind of odyssey, or what their conversations are like. I will only know how it is to perform a conversation with a refugee from the perspective of some kind of journalist or researcher.”

This setup also allows for a deep engagement with the game’s story, even if the player knows nothing about the subject matter, or has little interest in it. For example, one part of the demo shown at PAX has the player seeking access to a smuggler in order to follow the path of the refugees. Through a series of tense and engaging choices, the player determines whether or not they have a good relationship with this smuggler, in the process learning information that is both educational and mechanically involved. The gameplay and the learning reinforce one another in a way that drives engagement, and deepens the emotional aspect of the game’s journalistic aspect.

“It is a journalistic game about being a journalist. It’s very meta on many levels.”

We the Refugees released on Steam on May 1st, and 5% of proceeds will go to charities helping refugees.

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