Spring in Bishkek
“Spring in Bishkek” is a mobile game developed to help young people in Kyrgyzstan learn about and respond to the widespread abduction of girls and women for the purpose of forced marriage. Called ala-kachuu, meaning "to take and run away," the practice of bride kidnapping often involves rape, as grooms seek to shame girls into marrying. Although illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison, ala-kachuu remains widespread; however, the majority of victims and their families prefer not to report these incidents to the police, fearing backlash from reputation-damaging gossip. The goal of the game is to reach girls who are otherwise missed by the government’s educational programs and by the work of NGOs, teach them how to find support if they are faced with similar situations in real life, and actively change attitudes around ala-kachuu so that communities see it as a crime rather than a tradition. Inspired by real cases and designed as an interactive comic strip, the phone app puts users in the shoes of a university freshman who becomes her friend's sole lifeline when the girl's family refuses to take action after her kidnapping. The app was created by the Open Line Foundation, a Kyrgyzstani women's rights organization, and a team of activists, who partnered with like-minded artists and developers, and consulted with journalists, lawyers, human rights activists, and psychologists, some of whom provided their services pro and low bono. The team is working on developing a crowdfunding page and an option to donate through the app.
Theory of Change
Transforming a social issue into an engaging adventure game provides younger generations with basic practical and legal information to help them protect their and their friends’ rights, understand the kind of consequences that each of their choices can spark, and change attitudes around harmful practices.
An interactive story guides users through a virtual scenario in which their choices shape the outcome. The game begins when the main character sees her best friend kidnapped into marriage. The player then has to decide what to do next, aided by notes prepared by psychologists, journalists and activists, as well as real telephone numbers that players can use in cases of emergency. Notes touch upon women's rights, Kyrgyz traditions, Islam, psychology, physical security, online safety, and more. During the game, players receive points for successfully passing tests, learn about the impacts of bride-kidnapping, and learn about legislation that protects the rights of girls and how to report an abduction. The story consists of 12 chapters that have been gradually released since June 2020.
Uptake for the game far surpassed expectations, nearly tripling the overall target of 25,000 downloads in its very first month. In the first six months, the game was downloaded 150,000 times on PlayMarket and AppStore, with an average user rating of 4.5 stars. It is downloaded by users of all ages from across Central Asia and Russia — and perhaps surprisingly, some 20 percent of players are men. After the app’s release, the team received a message of gratitude from a Kyrgyz woman who said that the information inside the game helped her to rescue her younger sister from a forced marriage. Soon after, a girl from Kazakhstan reached out to reveal that she knew a family preparing to abduct a bride. The activists were able to contact organizations in Kazakhstan to come to her aid.