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Last month, HRF participated in South by Southwest (SXSW) — the world’s largest annual creative conference — where we hosted an expo booth and two panels, highlighting  the work that activists and civil society organizations are doing to undermine dictatorships around the world. Our booth exhibit, “Gaming for Freedom” was featured in the Austin Chronicle’s “Five Exhibitors Not to Miss at the SXSW Creative Industries Expo.

While many of the organizations and companies represented at SXSW were selling a product or service, HRF was promoting the principles of human rights by showcasing how people around the world are creatively taking a stand against tyranny and teaching people how they can do the same. Many were drawn to  this call to action, and our team was able to connect and strategize with tech developers, artists, journalists, educators, and philanthropists, who shared our commitment to creating a more peaceful, prosperous, and free world.

HRF’s SXSW Booth: Gaming for Freedom

Jerry Chan of Zeitgeist Studio (left) and Navid Khonsari of iNK Stories (right) at the HRF “Gaming for Freedom” booth.

HRF’s “Gaming for Freedom” exhibit focused on how video games can serve as a meaningful tool for social change. More than 1,000 people visited our booth, where they were able to use our interactive gaming stations to play and/or learn about the games, each of which served a vital purpose in showing worldwide audiences what it is like to be an activist, dissident, and/or journalist living under an authoritarian regime.

We promoted three game developers working to use the industry as an avenue for activism: co-founder of Zeitgeist Studio, Jerry Chan; media and public relations manager Kristen Bässe of Reporters Without Borders; and founder of iNK Stories Navid Khonsari. They are part of the teams that created the story-driven adventure game set in a futuristic, dystopian society resembling Hong Kong, Name of the Will; the Minecraft archive of banned books and articles, The Uncensored Library;” and virtual reality game “Blindfold,” set from the perspective of an imprisoned photojournalist during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, respectively.

(left to right: Name of the Will trailer on display, The Uncensored Library, and a visitor playing Blindfold at HRF’s Gaming for Freedom arcade)

Stay informed:

– Name of the Will by Zeitgeist Studio will be releasing their game demo on August 18, 2022. Follow their Instagram and Twitter @NameOfTheWill for updates. 

– The Uncensored Library by Reporters Without Borders is available for free for all players of Minecraft on PC or Mac. Visit uncensoredlibrary.com for more information. 

– Blindfold by iNK Stories is one of several immersive storytelling games spearheaded by the award-winning studio. Visit inkstories.com to explore more games and experiences. 

If you would like to learn more about each of these games and their developers, visit our SXSW Games page.

HRF’s SXSW Panels

Note: Both full-length panel discussions are now available to watch on our Youtube channel.

More than Just a Game: Gaming and Activism

This panel discussion examined how technological advancements in the past several decades have allowed PC, mobile, and console games to incorporate new designs and storylines that have attracted worldwide audiences, and how these games can be used as an avenue for activism. Moderated by HRF Policy Advisor Alvaro Piaggio, creators of the games featured at our booth, “Gaming for Freedom,” spoke at the panel. Navid Khonsari, founder of iNK Stories; Kristin Bässe, manager of the Uncensored Library; and Jerry Chan, co-founder of Name of the Will came together to explore how gaming can be used to initiate social change. After the discussion, audience members had the opportunity to speak directly with the panelists, ask questions, and learn about getting involved in HRF’s work.

Watch the full panel discussion here

The Aesthetics of Dictatorship

This panel discussion focused on ​​how dictators co-opt cultural institutions and use dress, art, film, architecture, and other kinds of visual propaganda to impose upon citizens their vision of society, instill fear, and reinforce their authoritarian regimes. Louisa Lim, author of The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited, journalist, and professor at the University of Melbourne; Peter Pomerantsev, journalist, Senior Fellow at the Agora Institute, and author of This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality; and moderator Alexander Sikorski took a deep dive into the ways art and popular culture have historically, and are to this day, being used by dictators to control and exploit their constituents. More than 150 people attended, and many stayed after the Q&A portion to ask more questions and learn how they can contribute to HRF’s work.

Watch the full panel discussion here

“Thank you for such a thoughtful, nuanced, intentional session this afternoon… Excited to learn more about your organization!”

 – Testimonial from an audience member

What’s Next?

SXSW was a huge success!  Many of the people we met  were deeply impacted by our booth and panels, including those in the creative, business, and tech industries who share our mission. This has only made us more excited to engage with our community of artists, tech entrepreneurs, dissidents, activists, journalists, and human rights advocates from around the world at the 2022 Oslo Freedom Forum in Oslo, Norway, on May 23-25! 

There, you will have opportunities to listen to theater talks by some of the world’s bravest human rights activists, participate in panel discussions, engage with interactive booths and installations, and network with human rights defenders in various industries. We hope you will join us in Oslo, where HRF will continue to explore the possibilities that lie at the intersection of art, technology, and human rights.