[Note: I wrote the draft of this blog post on March 5, 2016, but never got around to posting it. Perhaps I wanted to work on it more? In any case, here it is.]

I have an uncomfortable ethical problem that I need help thinking through.

For my Game Development class, each student had to pitch a game that they would like to make. The class will now anonymously give weighted votes to each of the proposals, and the top three or four will be the ones made once we divide into teams.

I pitched a game that I envision as interactive memorial for the Syrian Civil War. To my surprise, my pitch received some positive feedback, so I think there's a chance it could be made.

I'm not going to give away the full extent of my designs for this memorial, but one thing that I would like to include as part of the audio is the sound of death and despair: the screams of people trapped under rubble; the loud sobs of dying children; the shouts of rescue crews as they frantically try to extract someone from a flattened building; the wailing of people mourning their dead.

Being that I have seen thousands upon thousands of such videos, gathering authentic content for this purpose will not be difficult.

And that's where my questions begin.

What are the limits of fair use?

Assuming that "fair use" isn't an issue, is it okay to use the audio likeness of a real human being without their permission?

What if they're dead already?

Is it wrong to extract mediated versions of another person's most traumatic moments in life for a purpose they have no clue about?

I don't plan on this game being a commercial venture... but what if it were? Is that beyond the pale? The very prospect makes me feel icky, but maybe I'm wrong?

What if (and this is true) most of the source content I have in mind is originally from Islamic State videos? Does that change anything?

In short, what are my responsibilities to direct victims of mechanized violence when they are in no way accessible for me to consult in telling a story--through an unusual medium, at that-- that is at once about their experiences yet larger than any individual?

People with insights into the intersection of art, media, victimhood, and the ethics of representation: please help.

AuthorAustin Branion