Gaming for impact

Category: Storytelling, Video, Visual Storytelling, Visual Storytelling Tips

The video game industry is valued at $198 billion and growing, and reaches nearly a third of the world’s population! Yet, how often do we see synergies between this gigantic industry and the field of social impact? 

At first thought, video games are generally associated with violent narratives such as Call of Duty, or mind-numbing pastimes like Candy Crush. But this platform can offer so much more. It has the extraordinary ability to immerse an audience into new worlds and build communities at the same time. We believe social impact organizations – with any size budget –  have a lot to gain by tapping into this potential. Let’s explore how. 

The power of games

Unlike words and images alone, video games allow an audience to exercise choice in a different reality, while providing a safe space for failure. Take, for example, a game called Bury Me, My Love, which drops players into the shoes of Nour and Majd, a Syrian couple who are forced to separate when Nour flees to Europe. Players move through the world as Nour, as she navigates decisions to try and reach safety.

It connects users to the plight of refugees without having to leave their homes or sift through the noise of traditional media. Interacting with Majd along the way of her journey via text messages gives players firsthand insight into the complexity of separation that so many refugees face. Bury Me, My Love exemplifies the powerful potential of games to be a medium of radical empathy. 

Low-cost ways to integrate gaming into your comms strategy

So, what can social impact organizations do to harness this power? Of course, building a full-fledged video game requires resources that are typically beyond the reach of a non-profit. Still, organizations can tap into the potential of gaming culture in budget-friendly ways.

Here are some ideas: 

  1. Gamify community engagement: The world of gaming isn’t limited to technologically advanced video games. Remember, humans have been playing games for millennia. Think outside the box when it comes to connecting with an audience. Consider creating a scavenger hunt, challenges, or trivia night that prompts a community to learn more about a cause in an engaging way. Convene a game night on Zoom with prominent community members to create a fun way to network, deepen relations with an organization, and build increased solidarity of a cause.  

  1. Partner with a coding boot camp to build a prototype: Perhaps there is an idea for a tech-enabled game, but there’s uncertainty on how to begin this costly project. Coding boot camps sometimes seek local organizations to act as clients for junior developers who are learning how to build apps. In this role, the non-profit provides basic features and requirements of a game that student developers use to build a prototype. The game can then get tested in the real world before investing more resources to further develop the idea. An example of this kind of partnership is modeled here by a UK-based coding boot camp, Founders and Coders
  1. Create and manage an online community: Video game culture is heavily associated with gaming groups. Discord, a popular VoIP and instant messaging platform that is similar to Slack was originally created to facilitate communication among gaming groups. Consider mimicking this phenomenon by creating an informal online space that encourages the day-to-day facilitation of ideas, solidarity, and support, while actively building a community around a cause. The more dynamic an online space is, the more it will stand out from all the others. Two great examples of vibrant and well-managed online spaces are Study Hall, a community for media workers, and RadComms*, a network for social justice communicators. They offer group get-togethers, email listservs, and several databases of resources. There are plenty of ways a social impact organization can adopt these tools and practices to deepen engagement.

Let’s Discuss!

Has your organization integrated gaming into your work? We want to know about it. And if you would like to explore how to begin leveraging gaming for impact, get in touch. We’d love to support you in making that leap. 

*This blog post was inspired by a #RadSession entitled “The Transformative Power of Narrative games” convened by RadComms, an incredible community, and resource for social justice communicators. We highly recommend checking out their work and joining their network!

Tags: visual storytelling tips, visualstorytelling

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  1. Morten Schwarz Lausten on October 6, 2022 at 12:04 pm

    In Danish Red Cross we use games and elements from games more and more. The reason for that is quite clear: games engage and are excellent for communicating the not always encouraging topics that we work with: war, refugees, loneliness, etc. Games create understanding, knowledge and empathy. See for example the online (which is on the expensive end) and was funded by the EU.

    Games don’t just have to be digital, we’ve also created an offline, physical games to destigmatize loneliness among children 10-12 years old. This game is brilliant, because you are someone else when you play (the player) – and that way you can deal with the subject without prejudice or feel that you are the one the game is about. The game also creates a safe environment where the children can freely reflect.

    We will be producing more games in the future!

  2. Tara Todras-Whitehill on October 6, 2022 at 12:26 pm

    That’s a very important point and thank you for pointing that out, about off-line games!

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