ReBuilding Haiti is an interactive piece of electronic literature written by Florent Maurin and Jean Abbiateci, published in 2014 by Rue 89. ReBuilding Haiti is an amalgamation of several forms of media and gaming elements that creates a mix of an interactive story and longform journalism. The premise of ReBuilding Haiti is that the player is tasked with reading the story and when prompted with a choice of two to three decisions, they are to choose the decision they feel is best given the information that they have been provided. This will then either prompt them to make another decision, or lead the player to the consequence of their decision. The story adjusts what it tells the player based on each decision that the player has made. By the end of the game, the player will then be presented with what “their” Haiti looks like after their decision-making.
ReBuilding Haiti is based on the devastating earthquake that took place in 2010, displacing the lives of thousands of Haitian citizens. The purpose of the game is to look ahead four years (2014) and see what can be done to rebuild Haiti after this disastrous event, and then look ahead six years later to see what Haiti looks like in the present day (2020). The interactive story uses different forms of media integrated into the game in order to make it a more sensory and engaging experience for players. The game uses visual art, photography, video, and sound, alongside hyperlinks. With this, ReBuilding Haiti is considered to be hypermedia.
On the opening page of the game, players are met with an illustrated street scene mixed with video and sound elements that mimic a bustling street in Haiti. There is a short description that says, “four years after the earthquake, how is Haiti rebuilding itself? If you were part of the process, would you be able to make the right choices? Find out with this multimedia interactive story.” The game takes the player through seven chapters – the prologue and chapters one through six. The prologue takes into consideration funding for Haiti’s rebuilding process; chapter one focuses on putting a stop to the growth of shanty towns; chapter two engages with improving the health of Haitians; chapter three looks at fighting famine in Haiti; chapter four is all about building up Haiti’s economy; chapter five players are faced with the decision of leaving Haiti; and lastly, chapter six focuses on the Haiti that the player has built based on their decisions, and the player is then given one last difficult decision – return to Haiti or remain in a foreign country.
When playing through ReBuilding Haiti myself, I did consider that this story, while well researched and educational, can be looked at as trivializing a disaster that affected Haiti and its citizens in numerous tragic and unfortunate ways, that they are still having to recover from more than 10 years later. However, I attempted to look at what the game is trying to do, rather than what I think it is trying to do. In Stuart Moulthrop’s You Say You Want a Revolution? Hypertext and the Laws of Media, one of the questions that is raised is what does hypertext enhance and/or intensify. In the case of ReBuilding Haiti, this piece of hypermedia changes how people interact with literature and take in new information by not only creating a story that engages all the senses, but also gives the reader the final say in what is going to happen. It gives the reader more autonomy and control, rather than being at the will of the author’s narrative. ReBuilding Haiti is not only telling a story, but educating players on what has – and still is – taking place in Haiti, by mixing the elements of longform journalism and still making the content engaging with audio and visual elements. In Digital Poetics by Loss Pequeño Glazier, Glazier suggest that people look at hypertext as a delivery medium where the focus should be on how hypertext is made, and what it does. With this, ReBuilding Haiti allows players to engage in a real-life issue in a fictional manner, by situating themselves as the decision-maker.
There is no way an interactive piece of media could ever grasp the true density of this horrific event that took place in 2010, but it is a good starting point for people who want to learn, while also understanding that decision-making and prioritizing during a natural disaster, is not as easy it seems. The form that ReBuilding Haiti takes is important as it is not only accessible in its delivery, but helps foster understanding and start a conversation on how sometimes what we think is best, is not always best, and that there are always consequences – good and bad – to our actions and decisions.