In ‘Hazy Days,’ You Try to Keep a Child Healthy for One Week in China’s Smog

Developer Mike Ren wanted to show how difficult it is to breathe in an air polluted environment.

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Feb 7 2016, 4:31pm

Image: Hazy Days

A developer living in Shanghai has created a simple computer game to show how high levels of air pollution are affecting China's citizens—in particular, its children.

In Mike Ren's "Hazy Days," you play Xiao Feng, a little girl about to visit her grandmother for Chinese New Year. You control her breathing, trying to inhale oxygen molecules and avoid air pollution particles on her walk to school. The goal is to make it through a week without getting sick, so Xiao can visit her grandmother for Chinese New Year.

As Xiao inevitably collects air pollution in her lungs, every morning you help her cough up mucus into the sink. Both times I played the game, Xiao was sick and in the hospital by the second day.

Ren is an independent game designer who moved to Shanghai a year ago. "While the city is great, the air pollution is a real issue that people deal with on a day-to-day basis," he says. Ren hopes people who play his game will get a better understanding of how hard it is to stay healthy in frequent smog conditions, going beyond news coverage to humanize the issue.

China's notoriously bad air pollution has gotten a lot of media attention, but conditions are only getting worse. In the documentary film Under the Dome, former TV journalist and current environmental advocate Chai Jing interviews her toddler daughter, asking her if she's ever seen a blue sky. "I've seen one that's a little blue," the girl says. Jing says that in 2014, there were 175 days out of the year where it wasn't safe to bring her daughter outside.

Air pollution is obviously harmful to everyone, but it can be particularly concerning for children, whose lungs are still developing. It's easier for them to develop asthma and chronic bronchitis.

"Hazy Days" is free and available for Mac OS and PC. You can check out the trailer here.