‘Games of Change’ Festival at New York Gives Gamers a Reality Check by Introducing Video Games based on Social and Civic Issues

The Games for Change festival didn’t shy away from difficult or touchy topics and set to herald the beginning of a new trend in the gaming world

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Games of change festival
New video games are increasingly seeking to target issues of social injustice in a user-friendly interface . VOA

New York, August 8, 2017: You’re in Nepal. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake has just struck your village and you must rescue the survivors. This is “After Days,” a video game based on the real-life Nepal earthquake that killed almost 9,000 people in 2015.

Minseok Do was showing the game at the recent Games for Change festival in New York City. The games on display were a far cry from “Mario Brothers” and “Call of Duty.” These developers featured titles that tackled civic and social issues.

Public consciousness about civic and social issues has long been raised by the news and entertainment industries in the United States and other parts of the world, and now video game creators are making their own statements and hoping to reach the younger digital generation in the process.

In “After Days,” players take on the role of Ahsha, a young Nepalese woman who attempts to rescue her neighbors in the aftermath of the massive earthquake.

“Other media, such as novels and movies, require consumers to use their imagination to understand characters’ emotions,” said Do, CEO of GamBridzy. “Games have players be in characters’ shoes by letting them command and control. It is, in my opinion, the most powerful platform.”

Video games draw increasing attention from children and adults alike.
The intent of these games is to expose children to the ‘real issues of the world. Pixabay

In the game, players carry out various missions like transporting injured victims in stretchers and coordinating with rescue teams to restore critical infrastructure.

The first episode is set in Sindhupalchok, one of the hardest-hit districts of the earthquake in Nepal.

“Some say it will take about 10 years to complete all the restoration, but international attention is not focused on this, and it is important that we show our interest and support,” said Do. Twenty percent of proceeds from game sales will go toward rebuilding efforts.

Elin Festøy, a producer from Norway, also was in New York to promote her game.

“We really wanted to create attention and awareness around children born of war … children being born of the most hated soldiers in the world,” said Festøy.

She and her team created “My Child Lebensborn,” a mobile game in which players are the caretakers of World War Two-era children from the Lebensborn project, an attempt by the Nazi regime to create an Aryan “master race.”

Lebensborn involved child kidnappings as well as anonymous births by unwed mothers in and outside of Germany, with their offspring adopted by German families. After the war, many Lebensborn children faced prejudice and discrimination, even from their own mothers.

“It’s about being able to see children as children and not as symbols of [the] enemy,” said Festøy.

“My Child Lebensborn” is targeted at players aged 13 and up. Recognizing that 13-year-olds might not exactly run to play the game, one of the team’s goals includes creating a bundle for schools that includes both the game and an accompanying film on the Lebensborn project.

Video games at the Games for Change festival didn’t shy away from difficult or touchy topics. Indeed, they were a vehicle for discussion and dialogue.

“The problem in a lot of developing countries is that people do not talk about issues. People do not want to share their problems out of embarrassment,” said Dr. Ilmana Fasih, a director at ZMQ.

The New Delhi-based consulting company developed “YourStoryTeller,” a mobile app that is less video game than a digital narrative.

User-contributed stories are transformed into comic strips. Each week, a new story addresses women’s issues in India, a country where patriarchal attitudes are common.

In one example, a young woman’s studies are disrupted for an arranged marriage that takes her from India to Canada, where she is physically abused by her new husband.

Fasih acknowledged the stories are definitely not of the Disney fairytale variety, and they definitely have a point of view.

“Kids grow up watching those stories. We want kids to grow up watching these stories where there are struggles,” said Fasih. “A young boy is able to understand what are the struggles that his mom, his sisters go through. That is probably one of the best ways to defeat patriarchy.” (VOA)