Fighting a brutal regime with help from a video game
For Sein Lin, 72, killing virtual Myanmar troops is a way of participating in real-life resistance to the country’s ruthless military, which has killed thousands of citizens after seizing power in a coup last year.
CHENNAI: U Sein Lin, a retired history teacher in Myanmar, had never played a video game in his life. But about a month ago, while scrolling through Facebook, he stumbled on War of Heroes — The PDF Game. He has been playing it nearly nonstop ever since.
For Sein Lin, 72, killing virtual Myanmar troops is a way of participating in real-life resistance to the country’s ruthless military, which has killed thousands of citizens after seizing power in a coup last year. Since its debut in March, War of Heroes has been downloaded more than 390,000 times. Many players say they are motivated by the creators’ pledge to donate proceeds to help finance resistance forces in Myanmar, and aid those who have been displaced by the fighting. “Even though I can’t kill soldiers who are brutally killing civilians, killing in the game is satisfying, too,” Sein Lin said. “One way or another, playing the game and clicking until I die will help the revolution.”
Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, previously ruled the country for half a century and has long been at war with its own citizens. Since ousting elected officials in the coup last year, the regime has attempted to crush dissent by arresting opposition leaders, gunning down unarmed protesters, bombing guerrilla encampments and burning thousands of homes.
Many regime opponents have fled to the jungle, where they have formed the People’s Defense Force, or P.D.F., an army with more than 60,000 fighters under the leadership of the shadow National Unity Government. A similar number of fighters in urban areas have formed semi-autonomous guerrilla units, known as the local people’s defense forces. War of Heroes was created by three Myanmar-born developers who left the country before the generals seized power on Feb. 1, 2021. One of them, Ko Toot, said they were motivated to create the game after the arrest and subsequent disappearance of tech industry colleagues in Myanmar who were involved, or whose family members were involved, in anti-coup protests. A paid version of the game was released in mid-June, and within days it began landing regularly on lists of top 10 games at Apple’s App Store in the United States, Australia and Singapore. “Myanmar people all around the world are downloading it,” Toot said.
In the game, players go into battle and kill regime soldiers, moving up in rank as the game becomes harder. At higher levels, players can target civilian spies, turncoat celebrities who support the junta and coup leaders.
“We need you to join our resistance forces to protect innocent people From Evil Military Forces,” says the game’s App Store description. “Your duty is to join People’s Defense Force and become the best freedom fighter.”
The game’s free version makes money when players watch ads. The paid version takes in revenue when players download it or buy ammunition. Gamers who play enough to make the equivalent of $54 for the game receive a “certificate of achievement” for participating in the Spring Revolution, as the protests in Myanmar are known, and for donating money.
So far, the developers say they have donated $90,000. About a fifth of it has gone to help displaced people. The rest has been donated to more than two dozen local defense groups. Players in Myanmar need a VPN, or virtual private network, to get around internet restrictions for access to the game. To avoid arrest at checkpoints or during random police stops, players uninstall the game from their phone before going out and download it again after they return home.
Paddock is a journalist with NYT©2022