On the Chilean Miners Rescue and Design Inspiration

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The thirty-three workers trapped in a Chilean coal mine for 70 days were rescued in a painstaking two-day effort on October 13th and 14th. This high profile story seemed ripe for a newsgame and a quick Google search proved this hunch.

A number of parameters made the topic appropriate for a newsgame. The event took place within a limited spatial domain that was easy to recreate as a game space. The rescue itself involved an elevator lowered down through a narrow mineshaft. Rescuers pulled up the miners one by one in a process that took around a half hour per person. Each miner was greeted with rousing cheers and teary eyes, and, because they resurfaced one-by-one, news organizations were able to profile each individually. This in mind, let's look at the kind of works produced in response to this event.

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The only game produced as of the time of writing was by Felipe "Peluche" León, a programmer at Chilean tech and design firm Root33. Los 33 is a Flash game about rescuing the miners one by one. The game takes place on a single screen oriented vertically. At top sits the elevator contraption and on-looking rescuers. The elevator rests in a long mineshaft that reaches the bottom of the playfield where the thirty-three miners are located. To lower the elevator the player must click and hold the pulley wheel and gesture the cursor in circles. Once the elevator reaches the bottom of the chute, a word bubble pops up from the first miner reading "¡Minero a la Cápsula!" and the continue rescue button must be clicked.

Retrieving the miner means moving the pulley in the opposite direction. As the elevator is lifted back to the surface, a text box appears profiling the name of the miner, their age, and their professional/role. Miners in game are rescued in the same order as the real world counterparts. Once the capsule emerges from the ground the little people above cheer and shout "¡Llegó el Minero!" The player must click the "continue rescue button" again and repeat this task thirty-two more times, each taking about thirty seconds. Recovering all thirty-three miners producers a victory screen with a congratulatory message and the player's total time.

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The message is clear: the rescue required patience. This wasn't some exciting process with immediate pay-off; it was monotonous and laborious. It used the duration of each return trip to give a name to each member of a group who, for two and a half months, had been primarily referred to as a single unit. The systematic nature of the recovery lent itself to individuation—the process the game chose to focus on.

Los 33 was not the only game-related piece to come out of the Chilean miner rescue. Two images made their way into the headlines of videogame blogs. The first was from major videogame publisher Namco Bandai. They created an image using their Mr. Driller character set against a Chilean flag. The message read "Bienvenido de nuevo!" / October 14, 2010". While some felt it was inappropriate of Namco Bandai to use their drilling game character in this context--likely because they saw it as self-promoting--the sentiment behind the message was well-meaning. Namco Bandai pulled the link to the image from their Twitter account and issued an apology to those it had offended.

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Another image that made the rounds figured the rescue attempt as a scene from Super Mario Bros. This image was prompted by the profile of second rescued miner Mario Sepulveda. Sepulveda had earned the nickname Super Mario for his positive outlook and good natured relationship with the media during the miners' subterranean captivity. Between this nickname and the aboveground/underground dynamic of Super Mario Bros., the analogy effectively manifested itself. While it does not say anything meaningful about the rescue itself, it reinforced the individuation of the miners.

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While only one of these was a game, their quick production illustrates how quickly people are ready to think of events in the worlds in terms of videogames. We've seen examples of rapid turnaround in the past with the Hudson River landing games and the Balloon Boy tabloid pieces, and hopefully we will bear witness to and write about timely newsgames.

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