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Myanmar activist develops mobile game to support anti-military movement

Myanmar activist Ko Toot developed “The PDF Game” to raise funds and awareness for the anti-military movement, despite opposition and threats from the junta.



In the wake of Myanmar’s military coup in February 2021, Ko Toot, a skilled Information Technology (IT) expert, took a bold stand against the junta after witnessing the arrest of his pregnant friend and her husband.

Determined to make a difference, he harnessed his IT skills to create a mobile app-based game rooted in the country’s “real events.”

The game, known as “The PDF Game,” has proven to be a success, enabling Ko Toot to raise funds for the anti-military resistance while infuriating the ruling junta.

Ko Toot’s friends were detained for their support of the pro-democracy movement, but he remains in the dark about their well-being, stating, “They had never committed any criminal acts in their lives.”

Fueled by anger and concern, Ko Toot, an IT specialist, decided to join the movement to overthrow the “cruel and dangerous” military junta.

He began developing his game, aiming to raise funds for supplying weapons and humanitarian aid to the anti-military forces, known as the People’s Defense Force (PDF), and to raise awareness of the situation in Myanmar.

In the game, players confront military forces in scenes that developers say resemble real-life situations. (Photo: BBC Indonesia)

Speaking to BBC via encrypted messaging, Ko Toot remained anonymous for his safety, emphasizing the limited international aid and awareness for Myanmar’s crisis compared to other global events, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ko Toot launched “The PDF Game” in early 2022, offering it as a free download. The game generates revenue through ads watched by players while playing. To date, Ko Toot estimates that the game has raised around US$508,000.

He claims to earn between US$70,000 to US$80,000 per month, with these numbers “increasing every month.”

The characters in this game are inspired by real people from all walks of life, says Ko Toot. (Photo: BBC Indonesia)

In “The PDF Game,” players assume the role of PDF soldiers fighting against the military forces and engage in missions resembling real-life situations in Myanmar.

Ko Toot created characters based on real-world individuals involved in the anti-military resistance, including doctors, Muslim citizens, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. He believes documenting their stories is crucial as “they are fighting in a real war.”

Although the game faced challenges due to sensitive content, it is available on Google and Apple app stores. Google Play renamed it to “War of Heroes – The PDF Game,” citing its policy against apps that are “exploitative or insensitive to sensitive events.”

However, Google allows such content if it aims to “inform users or raise awareness” about the events.

Apple initially required the game’s name to be changed to “War of Heroes” before eventually removing it from the platform, which Ko Toot considered a significant setback.

Apple cited violations of its guidelines, particularly regarding the game’s depiction of the enemy not solely targeting government entities but also its policy on violent conflicts.

The game was reinstated after Ko Toot made several modifications, including changes to its original artwork and the removal of certain military missions. Ko Toot stated, “This is clearly good news, and we hope to generate more income now.”

The PDF Game” has also drawn the ire of Myanmar’s ruling junta.

In April, they issued a warning through state media, cautioning the public against “playing the PDF game.” The junta accused “terrorist organizations,” such as the National Unity Government in exile, of creating the game to raise funds for the PDF, sow distrust towards the military, and thus “foster revolutionary anti-army spirit.”

Ko Toot remains undeterred by the military’s threats, stating, “I don’t care what they say.” He emphasized that they have attempted to halt this multiple times, but “there is no way to stop digital attacks” in their effort to undermine the military.

The PDF Game” has been downloaded nearly one million times, according to Ko Toot (Google Play claims over 500,000 downloads, while Apple has not disclosed download figures). He believes the actual fundraising may be significantly higher, but working with a small team has resulted in a delay in receiving some of the funds.

These funds are sent to local PDF groups and used to purchase food and weapons for the resistance. Additionally, they support humanitarian efforts, including aid for children displaced by the conflict and those injured while fighting the military.

Ko Toot clarified, “We only send funds to defence groups but do not specify how to use them.”

Formed in response to the 2021 coup, the PDF has connected with armed groups organized along ethnic lines that have operated in border areas for decades.

They have proven to be a far more potent force than many anticipated, and the Myanmar military has lost control of much of the country.

With limited finances and weapon networks, grassroots fundraising efforts have become crucial in acquiring weapons and other supplies for the intensifying conflict.

Funds from the game are collected for the anti-military resistance. (Photo: BBC Indonesia)

Ko Toot has considered quitting on several occasions but stated, “The situation in Myanmar is getting worse every day,” and he intends to continue supporting the anti-military movement.

He believes his game has potential and hopes to eventually raise US$1 million per month. “I hope this money will help the people of Myanmar, who desperately need it.”

Myanmar has descended into civil war since the coup, with more than 4,000 people killed by the military, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The United Nations suggests that the actual death toll is “likely much higher.”

Measuring the military’s casualties has proven challenging, as the military acknowledges losses but does not provide specific figures.

The National Unity Government, the ousted civilian government of Myanmar, claims that the resistance has killed 20,000 soldiers, though BBC has been unable to verify these numbers.

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Kudos to the Myanmars. Have all the bank accounts of armed dealers in Singapore been shut down?