This summer I attended a conference on entrepreneurship in Santa Cruz, Tenerife. Nolan Bushnell, „the father“ of the video game console Atari and the former mentor of Steve Jobs, was one of the speakers. He was talking about how video games stimulate cognitive processes and how we can learn from video games for the real life. But besides getting smarter through playing games, Bushnell also stressed their educational value. Applying a correct design, video games can make learning attractive and help children to engage with joy in the learning process. Bushnell’s concept is very innovative, focussing on new technologies. But how do video games influence social skills? Can we design video games to promote peace, for example? And can playing video games help people to reconcile?
Well, it has been proved that playing sports can have team building aspects. In Kenya, for example, the NGO Mercy Corps set up a local empowerment for peace (LEAP) programme, where young people engage in conflict management through sports. „Sports teams helped to create an overarching identity that bridged the tribal ones“ (Baú, 2014: 4).
In Kenya, Sri Lanka, and other communities recovering from conflict, sports programs integrate a peace curriculum to foster bridge divisions and prevent a return to violence.
So, why not combine the team building effects with the acquisition of computer skills? In 2014, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with Build Up, organized the competition „PEACEapp“. It was a challenge for game makers and peace builders to create games that foster peace and dialogue. According to Jen Welch:
Beyond entertainment, games can offer safe and engaging environments in which to showcase alternative narratives and develop and practice new responses to complex and dangerous situations. Games and apps for peace are part of a broader movement aiming to develop games that have social effects.
In Cyprus, Kosovo and the Middle East, for example, gaming for reconciliation has already been tested. However, I believe that their positive social effects still have to be studied. It is a field that has not been explored sufficiently and that offers a large potential scientific branch. One challenge for these projects is to create an appealing and educational design of the games. And of course there is always the question of the viability: Can communities afford to implement the technology?
While exploring these questions, you should check out the winning game of the competition PEACEapp: http://ep.planpolitik.de/climate_demo_english
What do you think?
Baú, Valentina (2014): Building Peace through social change communication: participatory video in conflict-affected communities, in: Community Development Journal.
Thanks for your thought-provoking article, Tanja.
Games and sport are a powerful way to reach communities and individuals, and in particular youth, to encourage social change of all kinds – whether it be for peace, conflict resolution, healthy behaviours, to prevent gender-based violence or challenge harmful gender norms.
In the Sport for Development (S4D, or SfD) sector, the team building aspects you speak of, 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 , 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 games and sport!
At my Sport for Development organisation, Grassroot Soccer, we developed adolescent health curricula based on Bandura’s theory, combined with football games and metaphors. While the numbers of young people we reach are relatively small (read: outputs), the sustainable life changes (read: outcomes) are long-lasting and powerful ! The main tenants behind this approach are :
1. Kids learn best from people they respect. Role models have a unique power to influence young minds. Young people listen to and emulate their heroes. (Games can serve this same purpose!)
2. Learning is not a spectator sport. Adolescents retain knowledge best when they are active participants in the learning process, teaching others what they themselves have learnt. (Again, the power of gaming for young people is that they DO feel connected!)
3. It takes a village. Role models can change what young people think about, but lifelong learning requires lifelong community support. (As you posit above, can the gaming community serve as an online “village” for young people? I would say that it already does!)
Considering how wide-reaching technology has become around the world – and in particular amongst young people – in different forms depending on the context (from What’s App and MixIt in South Africa, to Snapchat and live-streamed online gaming in the U.S.), the same approaches used in Sport for Development, and Sport for Peace, can be applied to gaming and Games for Social Change.
The football-based HIV awareness activities at Grassroot Soccer would be perfect for mobile gaming in South Africa, used as a way to reach young people and bridge difficult or taboo discussions, and this is something I’m looking into for our programming in 2016.
So, could games for peace, or games for reconciliation, be used in the same way? There are a number of video games being created to demonstrate the harsh realities of war , life as a refugee , and the current refugee/migrant crisis , among others. And all to (rightly in my opinion) counter destructive, yet very popular, games such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Grand Theft Auto… but can these more socially aware games “take off” and gain a following in what is known and criticised as an extremely misogynistic and blood thirsty gaming culture? A powerful, but possibly idealistic, idea is that these games WILL reach young people in technologically-connected Western countries, and hopefully will make these youth in fact more connected to the rest of the world through the games…
BUT, from a development and Games for Social Change perspective in the Majority World – and as you hint at in your article – 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 , 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” .
There is a great organisation working to widen the reach of games for social change, called Games for 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 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” .
 Bandura, Albert (1971). “Social Learning Theory”, Stanford University. General Learning Corporation. http://www.esludwig.com/uploads/2/6/1/0/26105457/bandura_sociallearningtheory.pdf
 Nqweniso, Yamkela (November 2014). “#YouthVoices”, https://wpmu.mah.se/nmict152group2/youth-voices/
 Grassroot Soccer (2015). “Why Soccer?” http://www.grassrootsoccer.org/what-we-do/why-soccer/
 Noack, Rick (21 November 2014). “This war video game is not about the shooters. It’s about the victims”, Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/11/21/this-war-video-game-is-not-about-the-shooters-its-about-the-victims/
 UNHCR. “My Life as a Refugee”. http://mylifeasarefugee.org/game.html
 Williams, Lauren C (20 October 2015). “Creators Of Emotive Refugee Video Game: ‘There’s No Way To Save The Game”, Think Progress. http://thinkprogress.org/world/2015/10/20/3713821/cloud-chasers-migration-game/
 Boothy, Hugo (15 October 2015). “Pavement Radio”, Malmo University Communication for Development NMICT4D lecture.
 Warren, Jenn (2015). “Analysis of the Film Inside Story: The Science of HIV/AIDS”. Malmo University Communication for Development CCMA Assignment 2.
 Games for Change (2015). “Mission”. http://www.gamesforchange.org/about/
Dear Jenn, thank you for your post and the insights into your project. I’d like to pick up on two things you said.
1. Regarding your statement “A powerful, but possibly idealistic, idea is that these games WILL reach young people in technologically-connected Western countries, and hopefully will make these youth in fact more connected to the rest of the world through the games…”, I believe that this will depend on the design of the game. The fact that most popular games are in some way violent reveals the psychology of our society. And if these “new” games are overtly educational, they won’t be successful. However, if they are fun, challenging and in a subtle way educational, I think it could actually happen that they connect the Western youth to the rest of the world.
2. Thank you for this great quote by Hugo Boothby. I agree that user or audience studies are the most important part of the interpretation of a film or, in this case, games. In the end, the important part is that (a) users understand the intended message and (b) that they want to continue using it. This is why I advocate that communities have to be involved in the planning of projects and hence also in the designing of games. Because as Arora and Rangaswamy argue for the design of ICT for development, “We need to look at the global South users as typical users and not virtuous beings awaiting and capitalizing on opportunities for socioeconomic liberation” (Arora/Rangaswamy 2013: 901). Only if this happens, games can actually make a difference in the development sector.
Arora/Rangaswamy (2013): Digital leisure for development: reframing new media practice in the global South, in: Media, Culture and Society, Nr. 35, p. 898-905.
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