Games for Social Change

Over nearly a decade working with young people in Iraq, I have been skeptical about taking serious steps to develop a game for social purposes. Then, at the beginning of this year, I started thinking of developing a simulation game that aims to provide kind of hands-on experience for young entrepreneurs to enable and encourage them to start their own business and initiatives. Based on my previous experience and the simulations I have participated in (not many), I thought to myself, “Yes, maybe I can develop such a game.”

An opportunity came along the way to submit my idea to UNDP regional office; this opportunity was opened only for UNDP country offices in the region. My idea was to develop a game with different business scenarios, and to organize the interaction among group of participants drawn from different stakeholder roles through play. My game was designed to be played in a workshop or a gathering with facilitators, and maybe a trainer. I have never done such thing but I thought there is a possibility to try.

Then I participated in the Games for Social Change workshop, which was organized by UNDP Egypt and regional office in cooperation with the Engagement Lab at Emerson College. The workshop lasted three days. We tested, modified and developed games, and we talked about game design during much of the time. It was an opportunity to meet the team from the Engagement Lab (Mariko and Sam), the participants from Egypt, and representatives from other Arab countries. It was great to know that some young people in Egypt have already developed games and started production.

It was fun, but the question is: what was the added value?

Looking back to the business model I have developed and the game idea I had in mind, I realized that I have missed some minor issues (you will realize in few lines that they were not minor at all). Actually, I found that I have accidentally neglected one of the most fundamental elements of developing any game. Sam, our trainer, asked very simple questions: “Is your game FUN to play? Would people play it AGAIN?” Although those questions seem obvious, unfortunately I did not think about it this way at all. The game I had in mind was informative, useful, maybe challenging to certain degree; but it was not fun, and I am quite sure people will play it only once during a workshop. This question made me rethink the whole game.

During the workshop I worked with a small group to develop a game that aims to provide information and guidance about crowd funding. With the guidance from our trainer, and the great ideas from our team — we did it. We developed a prototype of a fun, playable, and useful game. This achievement changed my mindset from “maybe I can do it” to “YES I will do it.”

Beside all the cool things I have learned from this workshop about game design and modification, another issue stood out. The idea of using gamification for social change. I am still wondering and searching about this topic, which will definitely add great value to my ongoing and future work.

Steps Forward

Coming back to Iraq and my office in UNDP, I started talking to people to sell the idea of games and gamification. I found huge interest. Therefore, in the coming few weeks I will organize a session for UN staff and project managers and another workshop for young activists. Also I am revisiting my previous plan to develop my game — to make it more fun and appealing and to gather a team to help in the process. As I work on this, I remind myself that developing a game is a process that will have better outcome if it is done in a participatory manner. At the same time, I will keep following with my small team from Egypt for further testing and modification of our crowd funding game.

One of the main findings of my preliminary research is that Iraq does not have organizations, groups, or companies working on developing games. Therefore, this topic is new and I hope my work will help many people realize that they can create their own games. I am sure we used to make silly games when we were kids. I am planning to take people back to that age when they used to be creative and fearless of failing and trying again. The magic recipe would be the combination of Design Thinking as the guiding methodology and tools to be applied in designing games and gamification for social change.

Dhafer Hasan

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