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Remixing the story of the world’s most famous refugee

By Divya Amladi
"Moses the Freedom Fighter" mobile game retells the story of Moses through action-adventure challenges modeled after old-school video games. Photo: Courtesy of Ayotree

“Moses the Freedom Fighter” mobile game educates players about the refugee experience, raises funds for Oxfam’s refugee work

Here’s your mission: Ensure a newborn has safe passage down the crocodile-infested Nile River, protect the first-born sons of Hebrew households from death at the hands of Egyptian soldiers, unlock 10 commandments, and lead your followers to the Promised Land. Accept the quest and you’ll be entering into the world of “Moses the Freedom Fighter,” a free mobile game that remixes the age-old saga of Moses, the exiled Egyptian prince who leads enslaved Israelites to freedom. 

The adventure game was developed by brothers Chinh, 44, and Khoa Vu, 34, who grew up in a refugee family, as an homage to one of their favorite childhood films, the Easter classic “The Ten Commandments.” The Pasadena, California-based entrepreneurs and founders of Ayotree educational software were inspired to create a game that would bring Moses’ tale, with its universal theme of triumph over tyranny, to a new generation. 

Khoa Vu Photo: Courtesy of Ayotree

“Moses” is the Vus’ first venture into gaming, but even more remarkable than this accomplishment is their decision to donate all proceeds to Oxfam’s Syria and Refugee Crisis Response Fund, which benefits millions of people who have been displaced by conflict in Syria and other countries, including Yemen and Iraq. Their campaign makes Ayotree the first for-profit company to release a mobile game with 100 percent of donations going to a charity. Though free to download and play, all money brought in by ads goes toward supporting refugees. They’ve also set up a donation page.

Khoa describes the decision to team up with Oxfam as a no-brainer. The desire to support refugee relief efforts and their attraction to Moses’ story stem from the same place: their family. Chinh and Khoa—raised by parents who escaped a totalitarian regime in Vietnam and immigrated to the United States as refugees—know first-hand what it’s like to flee from a life of oppression and tyranny.  

“We wanted to make a game that inspires us,” says Chinh. “Being from a refugee family, the story of Moses always inspired us. It’s the whole refugee experience. He’s basically the original refugee.”

Personal exodus

Moses’s story resonates especially with Chinh, who embarked on his own high-stakes voyage from Vietnam to freedom at age six. His father was a high-ranking officer in the South Vietnamese Army. After the war, he was sent to a reeducation camp and during that time, Chinh was cared for by his grandparents. When his father was released in 1979, he told Chinh, “We’re going on a little trip.” That trip turned out to be their escape.

Chinh and a number of other family members, including his father and younger brother Joe, were part of the mass migration from Vietnam by boat—a group later termed “boat people.” During the treacherous journey, they were lost at sea for three days before their SOS sign was sighted by a fishing boat that pulled them in to the mainland. In the scuffle, two female relatives got caught in a riptide and drowned. The Vus were stationed at a refugee camp on Pulau Bidong, an island off the coast of Malaysia, which at the time hosted as many as 40,000 refugees, before they were resettled to the United States.  

Chinh Vu Photo: Courtesy of Ayotree

Khoa, a decade younger, was born in the US, but he too was shaped by the Vu family origin tale. “I heard stories from my parents about this crazy boat voyage,” he says. “They endured pirates and people drowning. Now, the images we’re seeing of Syrian refugees look so similar. I’ll sit down with my mom to watch TV and she’ll say, ‘the boat people, we are the same;’ she recognizes herself.” 

Still a hero for our time

Video game fanatics themselves, they had long dreamt of creating their own game. When it came time to cast a hero for their story, they first settled on Moses because he was a royalty-free character. “If we wanted to make a Marvel story, like Spiderman or Wolverine, we’d have to pay a licensing fee,” says Khoa. “But Moses, he was an old-school hero, and it was a story we could tell.”

They began developing the game over a year and a half ago, building out each level as an homage to the classic arcade games they cherished, such as “Tetris,” “Super Mario Bros.,” and “Space Invaders.” Then, just as they were finishing up their game, President Trump signed an executive order barring refugees from Muslim-majority countries from the US.

What started out as a simple game became a symbol of resistance.  

“All of a sudden there’s this ban, and it was like wait a second, hold on, we come from a refugee family,” said Khoa. “We realized the same thing keeps happening, whether it’s the Syrians of today, the Vietnamese of yesterday, or Hebrews during Moses’ time.”

Reflecting on his own resettlement, Chinh was most shocked that the executive order punished Iraqi and Iranian soldiers, who risked their lives to fight alongside Americans. “My father fought with the Americans, and if he had been rejected by America, we wouldn’t be here,” he says.

Screenshot of the refugee relief donation screen that pops up after a player downloads the game. Photo: Courtesy of Ayotree

From screen to real life

“Moses the Freedom Fighter” was released in March. Since then, it has been translated into 14 languages and downloaded and played more than 5,000 times by people in 29 countries. “After we released the game, we found that it connected with a lot of people,” says Khoa. “We made fans out of people who understood what Moses was talking about. It’s a timeless story.”

The Vus set a fundraising goal of $10,000 by World Refugee Day on June 20. As of June 15, they have raised more than $2,000. For Khoa and Chinh, the most fulfilling part of the experience is seeing their message of empathy and acceptance for those who have faced down genocide, intolerance, and injustice not only amplified, but reflected through support for their fund.

“Ultimately, the statement we’re making is not political,” says Khoa. “It’s humanitarian. This game is for anyone—from refugees to undocumented immigrants to migrant workers—who has been pushed to the outskirts of society, or felt the hand of oppression.” 


For more information on the game, visit http://www.freemoses.org/.

The game is available for download via iTunes and Google Play.

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