Video game donations help refugees fleeing oppression

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Vu is shown here working at a downtown Los Angeles office. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Vu is shown here working at a downtown Los Angeles office. (Photo by Ed Crisostomo, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

What do you get when you combine technology, a modern-day retelling of the story of Moses and a fundraising effort to help refugees fleeing oppression?

In the case of brothers Khoa and Chinh Vu, you get a mobile adventure game called “Moses the Freedom Fighter.” The game is currently available for free on both Android and iOS from Ayotree, their education technology company.

Donations for refugee crisis fund

The brothers, who maintain offices in Pasadena, Los Angeles, Saigon and Cambodia, are seeking donations from people who play the app-based game. And they’re giving 100 percent of the money to Oxfam America’s Syria and Refugee Crisis Response Fund.

Oxfam is a global movement of people working to end poverty. With 70 years of experience in more than 90 countries, the organization takes on the issues that keep people poor, including inequality, discrimination and unequal access to food, water and land.

Donation options include $1.99, $3.99, $5.99, or any amount specified by donors. Those wishing to donate to Ayotree’s support for Oxfam’s refugee efforts can also visit www.OxfamAmerica.org/Ayotree.

World Refugee Day

“So far, we have sent over $1,245 to the fund and our goal is to reach $10,000 by World Refugee Day on June 20,” said Khoa Vu, 34, who lives in Newport Beach. “When we started putting this game together we had no idea what the end goal would be. But as we were wrapping it up we looked around and saw that what was happening today is like the story of Moses. His story was about people who were oppressed. And with migrant workers and the (proposed) immigrant ban … this kind of ties that together.”

A personal story of oppression

Vu and his brother came with their family to the United States in 1979 after fleeing Vietnam.

“When we came here we were refugees,” he said. “There was a moment in time when some were welcoming us, but others called us Viet Cong. People are calling the Muslim refugees terrorists today, so that’s really no different than people calling us Viet Cong. It’s up to us — a new generation of Americans — to welcome them.”

Those who choose to donate to the Syria and Refugee Crisis Response Fund will have the satisfaction of knowing they are making a difference. But they’ll also have some fun along the way.

“Moses the Freedom Fighter” players can test their skills in a series of seven levels saluting some of gaming’s most popular arcade classics as they take on the role of Moses, a leading figure in Christianity, Judaism, Islam and several other world religions.

A nod to retro video games

Playing firsthand through Moses’s evolution from refugee to leader and hero, the game features vibrant animation. And each level is an homage to a different retro video game, ranging from such classics as Tetris and Super Mario Bros. to Punch-Out and Sonic the Hedgehog.

“This took about a year of serious programming,” Vu said. “It draws from all of those games we enjoyed, and we’re telling a story with different levels. It’s basically a remix of the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments. We’re Catholic and we grew up watching that on TV during Easter.”

There’s no denying that social media and gaming are an effective combination.

“It sounds like a unique way of getting their message across in the way that will engage people and also capture a young audience,” said Mia Mazadiego, who co-owns the Neon Retro Arcade in Pasadena along with her husband, Mark Guenther. “And if they enjoy the experience they will share it with others.”

Mazadiego said the advertising for their arcade is all done through social media.

“For every dollar we would get in profit from print media we’ll get $17 in profit from social media,” she said.

Amy Mullen, director institutional support for Oxfam America, said her organization is happy to partner with Avotree.

“We are impressed at their commitment to help draw attention to our humanitarian work,” Mullen said in a statement. “Their support will help to shine a light on the plight of refugees worldwide, a crisis which currently affects nearly 5 million people attempting to escape conflict and find safety.”



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