For many Asians, Heightened xenophobia and the rise in hate crimes in 2020, and now through 2021, have added additional stress and trauma to their daily lives. In a story now too familiar, Chanhee choi, a South Korean student at the University of Washington, was attacked in downtown Seattle by a racist attacker, declaiming the Chinese and the coronavirus. Afterwards, she decided to do something that she alone could have done to raise awareness of the problem.
She decided to make a game of it.
“It was at the start of the pandemic, in 2020,” Choi said. “I was walking down the street in downtown Seattle. At the moment, I had just returned from a trip home to see my family. There everyone wore masks, but here nobody did. I was the only one wearing a mask because I was from South Korea, so I was worried about being with others, if it was possible to catch coronavirus. I was just protecting myself, but I didn’t expect anyone to judge me or have a problem, or think that wearing a mask makes me feel like I’m sick. Suddenly a guy started yelling at me like, “Are you Chinese? You brought coronavirus. He raised his fist to my face. I looked for help and everyone turned away, like they didn’t want to see me. I felt like the only Asian in town, even though Seattle has so many. I was there all alone, knowing what he was doing to me. I had never felt this kind of fear in the United States. Since it happened, I don’t go downtown alone anymore. At the time, I noticed that every time Trump was on the news he mentioned the Chinese virus. But why did this happen to me? This was my first question. It really affected me. I wanted to share that kind of feeling and sadness, so that others could try to understand the experience I had.
It was then that Choi decided to use her digital arts and experimental media skills, her major, to incorporate her experiences. in a game. “I am a transdisciplinary artist. I was doing 3D animations and also video games, ”said Choi. “I learned a lot, for example on how brain sensors and mechatronics work, to involve them in a digital world. So yeah that’s where I got the idea to do Pandemic, using Unity and Maya 3D. “
To begin with, Choi created a 3D avatar of the Covid-19 molecule that players are forced to play the game with, to represent the dehumanizing racism of equating Asians with a virus. Across multiple levels, the landscape – and enemies – become more and more aggressive and disturbing. Some of these scenes even contain TV screens that show players reports of real hate crimes. To give players some freedom of action against the way enemies attack them, Choi offers fun and familiar items earlier in the game to fight with.
“The main character is a viral molecule exploring the world. Some people are trying to attack him, ”Choi explained. “I created certain functions for the player, so that he can collect toilet paper and hand sanitizer to throw at his attackers. I know it’s a little silly, but remember: toilet paper was like gold at first.