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Podcast #59: Games that improve education and bring social change

'Beyond School Books' – a podcast series on education in emergencies

© Marron/2012
Mallika Dutt, President and CEO of Breakthrough, with Breakthrough staff at 'Join Me on the Brooklyn Bridge: Celebrating International Women's Day Around the Globe'.

By Rudina Vojvoda

NEW YORK, USA, 1 June 2012 – Since their invention in the late 1940s, electronic games have been an integral part of our culture. But recently, games have been doing a lot more than just entertaining: They promote health, education and human rights, and bring about social change, among other things.

To talk about how game designers are using innovative ideas to do good, UNICEF podcast moderator Femi Oke spoke with three guests: Mallika Dutt, President and CEO of Breakthrough, a human rights organization that uses new media to reach mass audiences; Emily Treat, Senior Producer at Games for Change, a not-for-profit organization that creates and distributes social impact games; and Hsing Wei, Awards Manager at Games for Change.

Creating awareness and empathy

Explaining the difference between commercial games and games that have a social impact, Ms. Wei said, “If you look at most commercial games, traditionally they have an entertaining purpose. Games for Change has been looking into how you can apply game mechanics to raise awareness and to cause direct actions.”  

According to Ms. Dutt, what makes games a unique instrument for bringing about social change is their ability to allow players to experience different scenarios, such as famines, natural disasters, refugee camps and many others. “The ability to understand what it’s like to be in the shoes of the other creates empathy and creates awareness in a way that few other tools allow us to do,” said Ms. Dutt. 

© Photo courtesy of Games for Change
Girls play a mobile game developed by Games for Change, in Delhi, India.

Reaching out to the most vulnerable

One of area of concern, when talking about games, is accessibility. Can people living in remote or disaster areas, with limited or no access to technology, play the games? According to Ms. Treat, Games for Change has developed phone games that are simple and can be played on feature phones widely used in the developing world. 

“The reason why we are building these mobile phone games is to target the audience that we really want to reach, and for them it’s less about raising awareness to an issue – because they are experiencing it – and much more about creating action and providing education about an issue,” said Ms. Treat.

Are games cost-effective?

According to Ms. Dutt, the cost of developing a game is not significant because of games’ ability to reach out to a large audience. “If you really break it [the cost] to the number of each person that it has reached, it’s really a very important investment to make and not a significant investment to make,” said Ms. Dutt.




UNICEF podcast moderator Femi Oke talks to game designers about promoting social change through games.
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