Wonder City: Becoming a Female Superhero

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by Jenn Warren

While research online and mobile gaming for social change for my organisation, Grassroot Soccer, and a potential project we may do in 2016-2017, I came across this innovative game that attempts to encourage female empowerment and independence for adolescent girls ages 8-13.

Games for Change calls Wonder City “a companion to the independent documentary film Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines” by filmmaker Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and aims to provide adolescent girls with a game in which they can become female superheroes and discover their preferred superpower and “style of power” [1].

The game addresses a growing number of adolescent girls who are interested in gaming, but who are at the same time limited in their choice of challenging, female-oriented games. Says Guevara-Flanagan, “We started doing research on games, and when we looked at pre-teen games, every option out there was about having a makeover, or celebrity dating or boyfriends, or social climbing to become more popular — they were all just really bad. Young girls are very interested in gaming, and we feel they should have the same options boys have” [2]. Read more from Guevara-Flanagan on the making of Wonder City

Wonder City is an episodic, decision-oriented adventure that puts the player into the shoes of a high-school girl who discovers that she has the ability to control Quanta, a scientific phenomenon that grants people superpowers. The first episode, “Origins,” focuses on introducing the cast and setting the foundation for identifying what type of superhero the player will become.


There are many opportunities for expression and self-exploration in Wonder City, from naming and determining the appearance of your character at the beginning of the game, to discovering your “style of heroism” based on the decisions you make throughout the game. Some decisions that you make will then lock or unlock future decisions, creating a significant continuity across the narrative [1].

Created by game designer Naomi Clark and writer Phoebe Elefante, Wonder City is a “narrative, choose-your-adventure game where players navigate through a high school where people are mysteriously granted superpowers. Each episode explores stereotypes, beauty myths, harassment, bullying, and peer influence. It gives players the chance to fight back against all of those influences and stand up for others” [3]. Read more from Clark in her interview with PBS

“The goal is to show that heroism isn’t just in the realm of those who have super powers,” writes Games for Change. “Being there for others, taking care of those who need you, or having an amazing career is just as heroic as fighting villains and saving the day.”

Play the game! (courtesy of PBS.org)

View a game walkthrough by GirlsGames.com:

I recently commented on ‘s “Gaming for Peace” article, and wanted to share some of my relevant thoughts here:

In the Sport for Development (S4D, or SfD) sector (and I venture to say in the Games for Social Change field as well), team building, as well as building a sense of responsibility and connectedness, self-esteem and confidence, are all central to the approach. This builds on Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory [4], which says that “people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modelling”. The key factors are: Attention, Retention, Reproduction and Motivation, and what better way to encourage these factors amongst millennial youth than with gaming!

From a development and Games for Social Change perspective in the Majority World… who are these more socially aware games built for – particularly if Majority World communities don’t have regular access to the necessary technology to engage with them? This is key to ensuring that the games reach their intended audiences, and is almost if not more important than creating an effective game itself. This reminds me of Hugo Boothby’s comment about James Gibson and Affordances [5], as well as about Audiencing – which I discussed in my CCMA assignment last semester:

“Audience studies are a key part of decoding and interpreting film, and some would say the most important (Barker 2010/2012, Fiske 1994, Rose 2001). Without audience, our films, images and edutainment interventions arguably have little meaning, and meaning of a media text always depends on the way audiences receive and understand it” [6].

As mentioned above, Games for Change is a great organisation working to widen the reach of games for social change. They build and promote games for basic mobile phones, and work with organisations that can provide mobile phone stations in health clinics and schools, among other places, for people to access no matter whether they have a phone or computer of their own. From their website, “Founded in 2004, Games for Change facilitates the creation and distribution of social impact games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts. We aim to leverage entertainment and engagement for social good. To further grow the field, Games for Change convenes multiple stakeholders, highlights best practices, incubates games, and helps create and direct investment into new projects” [7].

Click through to watch this great video from Games for Change on their mobile gaming work in Nairobi, Kenya:

Games for Change from Ed Owles on Vimeo.

[1] Games for Change (2015). “Wonder City”, http://www.gamesforchange.org/play/wonder-city/

[2] Puga, Kristina (13 June 2013). “Wonder Women!” filmmaker creates online game to empower girls”, NBC Latino. http://nbclatino.com/2013/06/13/wonder-women-filmmakers-empowering-new-video-game-for-girls/

[3] Huval, Rebecca (21 May 2013). “Wonder City Designer Naomi Clark on Busting Sexism with Games”, PBS Independent Lens. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/wonder-city-game-creator-naomi-clark-on-busting-sexism/

[4] Bandura, Albert (1971). “Social Learning Theory”, Stanford University. General Learning Corporation. http://www.esludwig.com/uploads/2/6/1/0/26105457/bandura_sociallearningtheory.pdf

[5] Boothy, Hugo (15 October 2015). “Pavement Radio”, Malmo University Communication for Development NMICT4D lecture.

[6] Warren, Jenn (2015). “Analysis of the Film Inside Story: The Science of HIV/AIDS”. Malmo University Communication for Development CCMA Assignment 2.

[7] Games for Change (2015). “Mission”. http://www.gamesforchange.org/about/

About Jenn

Jenn provides photography, communications and Communication for Development services for a range of humanitarian and development clients, and leads photography and communications workshops for youth and professionals. These days, she spends much of her time with the Sport for Development organisation, Grassroot Soccer.
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