Pasadena Company started by Vietnamese brothers donates proceeds from Moses-based video game to aid Syrian refugees

A local online video game company plans to donate 100 percent of the proceeds of its latest mobile app to refugees of the Syrian conflict.

Created by Chinh and Khoa Vu, co-founders of the Pasadena-based software company Ayotree, “Moses the Freedom Fighter” allows gamers to propel the actions of the seminal religious figure as he rises up from an immigrant to lead his people to freedom out of Egypt.

The Vu family fled Vietnam in 1979, four years after US troops pulled out, and migrated to the United States.

“From the classic film ‘The Ten Commandments’ to more recent high-profile Hollywood epics like ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings,’ ‘Noah,’ and more, the age-old stories never lose their power,” said Ayotree Co-Founder Chinh Vu. “As onetime refugees ourselves, the release of ‘Moses the Freedom Fighter’ is our statement — using the language of computer code as our canvas — against racism, slavery and oppression, and in support of freedom for all.”

Proceeds from donations will go to Oxfam America, a nonprofit organization helping refugees worldwide.

“As they help to lead a global movement for change, Oxfam America embodies this message and is empowering people to create a future that is secure, just and free from poverty. We are so proud to support those endeavors with our game,” said Chinh Vu.

Khoa, 34, was born in America, but Chinh, 43, had to endure his own trek to freedom with the rest of the family in the late 1970s, during the plight of South Vietnamese residents forced to flee the country by sea to avoid the communist regime taking power. The exiles were known simply as “boat people.”

“They escaped by boat with other boat people,” Khoa told the Pasadena Weekly. “They tell me all the time that it is crazy that they even got here. They were shot at and people died. It is incredible. They got picked up by a Norwegian ship and spent time in a camp in Malaysia for about a year, and they made it to California.”

Chinh was just 5 years old when the family fled Vietnam four years after the war ended, along with hundreds of thousands of other Vietnamese people during the communist takeover of their homeland.

Although President Richard Nixon had promised to provide aid to the country, he had been forced out of office in the Watergate scandal in 1974 and his predecessor Gerald Ford was unable to convince Congress to stand by Nixon’s promise in 1975, the year US military forces withdrew from Vietnam. 

Less than 1,000 people managed to survive the trek by sea and lived in refugee camps in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong. A small number made it to the United States, according to USA Today.

By 1977, 20,000 people had fled the country by sea, and nearly one-third perished during those journeys as many Asian countries began turning away refugees.

International attention to the plight of Vietnamese immigrants grew in 1979, when the number of boat people increased to 100,000. Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and the Philippines sparked international outcry when their leaders declared that they could no longer accept immigrants into already overcrowded camps.

By that time, from 10,000 to 15,000 immigrants were escaping from Vietnam each month. The crisis prompted President Jimmy Carter to double the number of refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos from 7,000 a month to 14,000 in 1979.

“History is repeating itself,” Khoa observed. “If you Google the pictures of the Syrian refugees and the boat people, you see similarities. It is the same thing happening.”

That similarity pushed Chinh and Khoa into action. They decided to use Moses because they thought he had crossover appeal.

“Everyone is down with Moses,” he said. “Christians, Muslims and Jewish people, it’s a story about every refugee, immigrant or migrant worker. It is just a cool story about someone that stood up to oppression,” he said.

The game tests the skill of players as they take on the role of Moses as refugee, then leader, then hero.

The free game, available in the Play Store and iTunes, features seven levels of play which pay homage to some of the most classic video games of all time, including Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, Punch Out and Space Invaders.

A reviewer on AppAdvice, an online site that reviews apps, said the game was created “to spread the message of freedom.”

“This game is dedicated to those who are willing to stand up against injustice, whether it be Moses or Martin Luther King Jr.,” the site states. “This game is for those who believe it is the responsibility of humankind to remind people from all different creeds, countries, cultures, colors and refugee camps that we must all unite to carry the torch of freedom.”

During the game, players can donate money by watching free video ads or donating at Freemoses.org.

The money goes to Oxfam America, a nonprofit with offices in Washington, DC, and Boston dedicated to fighting the issues that lead to poverty, including inequality and discrimination.

Oxfam America is attempting to help refugees impacted by the conflict in Syria and the surrounding region.

In 2011, Arab Spring protests in Syria escalated to armed conflict after President Bashar al-Assad’s government violently repressed protests calling for his removal.

Since the two sides took up arms, the fighting has claimed more than 300,000 lives and triggered a massive exodus with close to 5 million people fleeing the country to escape conflict.

Oxfam America is providing lifesaving aid to displaced people in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Serbia and is also helping families to meet some of their basic needs as they travel beyond the region to seek safety.

“We were delighted to be chosen by Ayotree as their charity, and we are impressed at their commitment to help draw attention to our humanitarian work,” Amy Mullen, director of institutional support for Oxfam America, said in a prepared statement. “Their support will help to shine a light on the plight of refugees worldwide, a crisis which currently affects nearly 5 million people attempting to escape conflict and find safety.”