Virtual Saviours: Digital games and anti-trafficking awareness-raising


  • Dr Erin O'Brien
  • Dr Helen Berents



human trafficking, games, advocacy, awareness-raising, virtual, narrative


In recent years, digital games have emerged as a new tool in human trafficking awareness-raising. These games reflect a trend towards ‘virtual humanitarianism’, utilising digital technologies to convey narratives of suffering with the aim of raising awareness about humanitarian issues. The creation of these games raises questions about whether new technologies will depict humanitarian problems in new ways, or simply perpetuate problematic stereotypes. This article examines three online games released in the last five years for the purpose of raising awareness about human trafficking. In analysing these games, we argue that the persistent tropes of ideal victims lacking in agency continue to dominate the narrative, with a focus on individualised problems rather than structural causes of human trafficking. However, the differing approaches taken by the games demonstrate the potential for complexity and nuance in storytelling through digital games.


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Author Biographies

Dr Erin O'Brien

Dr Erin O’Brien is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Justice, Faculty of Law, at the Queensland University of Technology, Australia. Dr O’Brien’s current research examines political activism and policy making on irregular migration, labour exploitation and sex work. She is the author of The Politics of Sex Trafficking: A moral geography (Palgrave, 2013) and Challenging the Human Trafficking Narrative: Victims, villains and heroes (Routledge, 2019).

Dr Helen Berents

Dr Helen Berents is a lecturer at the School of Justice, Faculty of Law, at the Queensland University of Technology, Australia. Her research is centrally interested in representations of children and youths in politics and engagement with their lived experiences, spaces of everyday politics, and feminist approaches to conflict and peacebuilding. Her previous work on these topics has been published in Signs, International Feminist Journal of Politics and International Political Sociology, among others.




How to Cite

O’Brien, E., & Berents, H. (2019). Virtual Saviours: Digital games and anti-trafficking awareness-raising. Anti-Trafficking Review, (13), 82–99.