Inside the Haiti Earthquake: a Simulation

Learn about the decisions made by survivors, aid workers, and journalists in a crisis

After I wrote about the Toronto Star’s excellent multimedia coverage of the Haiti earthquake and its aftermath, I was alerted to another Canadian organization’s impressive interactive project on the same topic. “Inside the Haiti Earthquake” is a first-person simulation program created by PTV Productions.

The footage used to create the simulation was collected for a documentary video series about the Red Cross’s relief efforts, called “Inside Disaster.” The simulation’s home page has the following intro:

Inside the Haiti Earthquake is designed to challenge assumptions about relief work in disaster situations.

This is not a game. Nobody is keeping score. By playing the role of an aid worker, journalist and survivor, you will be given the opportunity to commit to various strategies, and experience their consequences.

What follows are three different photo and video sequences, little mini-documentaries narrated in the second person. In the Journalist section, for instance, “You make your way to the Canadian embassy, and join the other journalists and relief workers there.”

Choose-your-own-adventure options pop up, followed by various consequences. If you see someone being trampled in a riot, do you drop your camera and help her, or do you keep filming? This generic interview with an aid worker - do you include it in your story, or skip it?

You also must choose how to frame the events that unfold in front of you for your assignment. Confronted with a clip of a confusing scene at an aid distribution point, you have to decide how you will narrate this scene in the video you are supposedly producing for television broadcast. “The humanitarian aid distribution is chaotic, and is endangering the people it was meant to help” is one option. “In the slums of Cite Soliel, starving Haitians riot at a humanitarian food distribution” is another.

Then you get to see the result, the video footage that “you” produced through the decisions you made, and you get feedback via “text message” from your producer. This might all sound a bit cheesy; somehow, it’s not. With stunning footage and tricky decision-points, it’s a simulation that not only shows the reality of the chaos in Haiti after the earthquake, but also reinforces the fact that there are no easy solutions to it, whatever one’s role may be.

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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner