The title of the online workshop organized by the Geneva-based ITU World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2020 resonates like a mantra. We believe in games. Forget the hobby. According to one of the speakers, the Spanish NGO Video Games Without Borders (VGWB), video games are a technological and artistic achievement and a commercial competition. Video games can change the world.
Great games for great causes. Last week, Swiss daily paper Le Temps released its own digital adventure, an immersive and interactive experience called “Four apartments and a lockdown”.
The idea is to invite players into the lives of different families during the Covid-19 pandemic. Readers now take part in the news story, as the game becomes the media that relays information on sensitive issues.
Another example can be found at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In January, they joined forces with the utmost popular Fortnite to present a new game mode, called Liferun.
Players are challenged into recreating tasks related to the organization’s missions. Lives must be saved instead of taken. ICRC had already played this game once with Arma 3 and its Laws of War add-on, developed by Bohemia Interactive. Back then, it had chosen to create prohibited cluster munitions as an in-game asset, to teach the controversies surrounding their use.
The causes brought into light vary and the possibilities are infinite: fighting cancer, defending LGBT rights or saving war prisoners. Moreover, by trusting their power of engagement and motivation, video games can become a new humanitarian voice reaching millions of players.
Antura has been downloaded over 300,000 times
Action. VGWB was founded in early 2015, just as the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) were being defined. As Francesco Cavallari, one of the founders, explains:
“Video games are the media of the 21st century. They can offer a very safe environment to learn. If you fail, you can try again. It is a wonderful playground to prepare you for life.”
Based on a community of over 300 people in 30 countries, the NGO is developing humanitarian video games where they are most needed. In 2018, VGWB released Antura, to help spread literacy among migrants — children, in particular — displaced by conflict.
It proved efficient on both educational and psycho-social levels: Antura has been downloaded over 300 000 times, since then.
In 2020, with the help of their gaming community, the NGO produced Flatten Island. As a governor of a pandemic-stricken fantasy island, you experiment the management of health emergencies.
Inspiring storytelling. If the virtual casualties in video games were real, humanity would be extinct by now. This is why the new narratives try to overcome this culture of violence. Video games can actually improve people’s quality of life and raise awareness. Moreover, as the market is big, they can become an efficient fundraising tool to support NGO initiatives to add to the process, when inspiring and positively engaging.
“A game is an opportunity to live another life, a fantasy life, and enjoy it. Of course, you can also have some of that experience with books or movies, but with video games, you are part of the story.”
Francesco Cavallari underlines another fundamental aspect. Playing video games is not a lonely quest. On the contrary. A video game is a social activity, even online, the story is created together with other players.
This means that video games invite us to write a more sustainable collective story, as we can all become an active part of it.