Just about everyone is familiar by now with the basic elements of classic video game design, including what happens to the player’s little pixilated character when – much to their consternation – it dies on their screen in front of them.
They die and then they respawn again and live life anew, usually at least three times, often more. The worst thing that can happen to the player is starting again at the beginning of the level or the game with their lives now replenished.
Real life and death, however, is nothing like how it is in the world of video games and there’s nothing fun about real violence – especially when it happens in your household.
NGO This Life Cambodia’s latest campaign is called 16 Days of Activism and it’s centred around a short film wherein a man using a virtual reality headset is shown playing through a simulation of what women really experience when they are the victims of domestic violence.
The film, entitled Virtual Reality: Violence is not a game , begins with a man wearing the VR headset and playing as the woman in a simulation as she drives her scooter home and it soon becomes apparent that the player loses the game whenever the woman he is playing as is beaten to death by her husband at home and we then watch as he tries to avoid that fate in order to “win”.
If that’s not grim enough for you, the film has a plot twist at the end that takes an even darker turn.
It’s a very short film at one minute and 36 seconds in length, but it’s powerful all the same and it draws attention to the impact that violence has on all of the members of the community while calling attention to the fact that violence is not a game, but rather a sad reality for many women in Cambodia.
For the past three years, This Life Cambodia has won several international awards for their interactive and integrated activism campaigns that have challenged societal norms and the traditional Cambodian cultural attitudes about violence against women.
“There is no excuse for violence against women and children, but unfortunately, abuse is considered acceptable [here] with studies showing that half of Cambodian women and more than a quarter of men believe there are conditions that justify violence against women,” This Life Cambodia’s executive director Billy Gorter tells The Post.
Approximately 30 per cent of women 15-49 years of age have experienced physical, sexual, emotional or economic intimate partner violence in their lifetime, according to This Life, and that of the Cambodian women experiencing violence or abuse, 49 per cent of them never talk about it to friends or family.
Janet Davis, This Life Cambodia’s fundraising manager, says: “This is often due to feeling ashamed, blaming themselves for their partner’s behaviour or out of fear of retribution.”
She says that there are many reasons women either don’t speak out or report what is happening to the authorities when they are experiencing domestic violence.
Being under pressure and shame or feeling embarrassment often prevents women from sharing their experiences of violence and domestic violence is considered by many to be a matter that should be kept within the household and not shared with outsiders.
“There are many hurdles a woman faces when she’s in a domestic violence situation. If she has children she is probably trying her best to protect her children and to keep them safe, as well as herself,” said Davis. “She may feel that if the abuse is directed at her then her children are better off. Sadly, children are still deeply affected by any violence around them – even if it’s not physically – then certainly they are emotionally.”
Davis said that the mother might believe her children need a father or she might be afraid of what would happen to them if they lost his economic support.
For women who decide to leave their husbands, the legal system is complicated and it further disadvantages already vulnerable women.
While this violence is occurring within a household, the family, friends and neighbours who are aware of it will often turn a blind eye to what’s taking place, believing that it’s inappropriate to interfere in another family’s private matters, thereby compounding the victim’s feelings of helplessness and isolation.
“We ask people to please watch our video to understand many women’s reality. Life isn’t a game, but for some, this is their actual reality,” she says, adding that the central message is that everyone should take a role in ending violence against women and making communities safe.
She said the set-up of the film wherein the man is using a VR headset is turned on its head by the twist ending that demonstrates clearly that life is not a game, this is someone’s reality that could happen to anyone you know because women are afraid to speak out.
“Everyone is entitled to basic human rights, women and children as much as men. It’s up to each and every one of us to change the plot of this story so that domestic violence and abuse is no longer part of any woman or child’s day-to-day reality,” said Gorter.
“As an organisation, we are committed to ending violence against women and our latest campaign is really centered on rallying support across all levels of the community so that, together, we can challenge [Cambodian culture’s] acceptance of domestic violence head on.”
The video has now been viewed more than 2.3 million times on Facebook over the past three weeks and it has been shared and by several Cambodian celebrities who have endorsed the campaign in addition to some high-profile international figures.
GiGi, a TikTok influencer who is taking part in the campaign, said in a video that “every woman is afraid of violence but every one of us should not be afraid of seeking support. Talk to your family and friends to help you get away from violence.”
As millions of people have been exposed to the video campaign, Siem Reap-based This Life is working with focus groups to tailor its messaging to a very broad audience to ensure that it is clear and concise and easy to understand.
This Life Cambodia’s project This Life Without Violence provides counseling support to victims, food packages to families, school materials to children and assist with income generation and building capacity among the local authorities.
“Building strong networks is also a significant part of our team role to ensure that women and children are safe and get enough support not only from us but also from other sources including government departments and NGO networks,” says Davis.
The “16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence” campaign marks its 30th anniversary this year as a global campaign run annually to tackle the scourge of violence against women.
“Domestic violence isn’t a Cambodian problem, it’s a global problem. Research shows that one in three women across the world face violence at some point in their lifetime.
“It’s time for this to stop, and that means that men have to change. We all need to work together, male and female, to say that we won’t tolerate this. Not in Cambodia, not in any country. We’re glad that men are sharing this message in huge numbers – that’s a step forward, though there’s a long way to go,” Gorter – who is also This Life Cambodia’s founder – tells The Post.
He says that the campaign has successfully engaged with a range of ambassadors, women leaders, influencers, celebrities and community members throughout Cambodia.
“This campaign calls on all Cambodians to be citizens of change and become part of the solution to help women know what their human rights are in relation to domestic violence and to know that there are laws to protect them,” Gorter says. “We are calling on everyone within our community to stand up and support women, rather than ignore the issue.”
With increasing support from the Cambodian government for the prevention of violence against women, the level of engagement with this campaign as compared to previous campaigns has also increased, according to Davis, who says that slowly but surely attitudes in Cambodia are shifting as people become more educated about human rights and the laws that are in place to protect them.
For more details and to watch the campaign video, please visit This Life Cambodia’s Facebook page: @thislifecambodia