SOCIAL ACTIVISM & GAMES
- can a video game really help create
the social change and consciousness
raising we need on so many fronts?
“Ethical’’ computer games have begun to start emerging with games such as the UN released Food Force,
a game about distributing aid to disaster zones. It prompted a flurry of interest in games with real-life
applications, especially for children.
Games need difficult, negative or
uncomfortable experiences to create the
kind of compassion and understanding
necessary for social change.
Bad experiences in games are important,
because they’re essential to creating
empathy. Getting “screwed out of loot” in
WoW can teach a player what it means to
be taken out of something you feel you’ve
rightly earned, and that design principle can
encourage players to better empathise with
others in the real world.
When a game forces players to take actions
or confront issues with which they’re
uncomfortable, it makes them reflect on
what they are doing and why they’re doing
it which can often lead to very positive
Games allow you to make choices unlike many other mediums putting the user in a very empowering
position. Games could offer interesting results for those choices that could tie into real world issues. The
possibilities are endless.
As we play games we are changing what we are capable of as human beings, we’re evolving to be more
collaborative and hearty species.
The average country with a strong gamer culture will spend 10,00 hours playing online games by the age
of 21. This number is similar to the amount of hours you would spend in a classroom in high school. This
means that games are virtually an unprecedented human resource.
In those 10,000 hours of game time what are the gamers getting so good at?
Games for Change (also known as G4C) is a movement and community of practice dedicated to using
computer and video for social change. They believe that by making the virtual world more like the real
world, players will be able to use the skills from the video to tackle real world problems and come up
with new and innovative solutions.
They seek to harness the extraordinary power of video games to engage the public in the most
pressing issues of our day, including poverty, human rights, global conflict and climate change.
Founded in 2004, Games for Change is a voice for the transformative power of games, bringing
together organisations and individuals from the nonprofit sector, government, journalism, academia,
industry and the arts, to grow the sector and provide a platform for the exchange of ideas and
resources. Through this work, Games for Change promotes new kinds of games that engage
contemporary social issues in meaningful ways to foster a more just, equitable and tolerant society.
There are still many sceptics that games can change society however, with many questioning the
convergence of the playful world of games with the world of social crisis.
Major game companies have largely ignored social-change games. The corporate games industry is risk-
averse and consider that there’s an awful lot of academic work and social-change work where the user is
not entertained enough to launch it in the first place.
Another problem is the world’s real-life issues, the crisis of Darfur and the squalor of Haiti seem
insurmountable, they make people throw up their hands in a way they don’t with problems posed in a video
Also developers aren’t going to change much if gamers don’t change themselves. If you brought up a game
about the genocide in Rawanda to a person, their first thought would be of a gamer shooting a group of
Tutsi with a machine gun. If people’s notions about gaming changed, then the first thought would not run
towards a murder simulator but of the great strengths
an interactive experience could apply to such a subject.
Games can teach us that we can actually tackle
these monstrous problems bit by bit, pick them apart,
disassemble them, turn each one into something simple
that we can tackle.
Games that encourage us to virtually tackle the
world’s worst problems might just give people the
urge to tackle them in real life as well.