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Using Digital Games to Teach Real-World Issues

From helping players develop key 21st century skills, to promoting social and emotional learning (SEL) outcomes, and even helping engage learners who struggle with more traditional instructional methods, video games can serve as an incredibly powerful tool for learning. Perhaps one of the best ways to utilize game-based learning is harnessing its narrative and storytelling capabilities to address meaningful topics that are relevant to our modern world. Today, we’re exploring how digital games can help promote better understanding of real-world issues, through the lens of three global issues – the climate, refugee, and water crises.

Climate Change

Across the globe, average temperatures are rising, oceans are warming, and glaciers are retreating – and these are only a few of the long-term effects of climate change reported by NASA. As world leaders attempt to curb climate change through regulations and policy reform, many game developers around the world are also beginning to address themes of climate change and environmental preservation in their own work – as evidenced by games like Eco (Strange Loop Games), Beyond Blue (E-Line Media), and more. Whether highlighting the effects of human impact on our environment, warning players about the dangers of overconsumption, or approaching these issues from an entirely different perspective, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that digital games can serve as a powerful platform to promote self-reflection and kickstart meaningful conversations surrounding climate change.

Further reading:

A New Wave of Indies are Using Games to Explore Climate Change (The Verge)

Global Refugee Crisis

The world is facing its highest levels of displacement ever recorded, according to the United Nations. Out of an estimated 70+ million people globally who have been forced out of their homes by tyranny, wars, and other forms of oppression, nearly 30 million are classified as refugees, with more than 50% of which being under the age of 18. It was these conditions which birthed one of the most promising game makers of our era – Lual Mayen, CEO of Junub Games, Facebook/The Game Awards Global Gaming Citizen, and former refugee from South Sudan. Inspired by his upbringing to create games which promote peace and conflict resolution, Lual’s current focus is developing Salaam, a high-tension runner game where players assume the role of a refugee fleeing from a war-torn region. Featuring in-game purchases which actually help support real-life refugee camps with food and water donations, Salaam is one of a growing crop of games designed to help players build empathy and understanding towards refugees.

Further reading:

Once He Was a Refugee. Now He’s a CEO Making Video Games for Peace. (The Washington Post)

Water Scarcity

With 70% of our planet covered by water, it’s easy to assume that the resource is near-limitless. But when you take into account the fact that only 3% of the world’s water supply is freshwater, it becomes far more clear why water scarcity is becoming an increasingly talked about issue. According to the World Wildlife Fund, roughly 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to usable water, with a total of 2.7 billion people experiencing water scarcity annually for at least one month out of the year. By 2025, water shortages will be a regular issue for an estimated two-thirds of the world – which means the time to begin taking this issue seriously, if not years ago, is now. This ongoing crisis was the obvious inspiration for one of our free online games created in collaboration with the Smithsonian Science Education Center – Aquation: The Freshwater Access Game. Designed to give players a deeper understanding of the ways that wealth and water have to be carefully managed to solve the world’s water crisis, Aquation is one of several water conservation learning games available on the web – each helping to raise awareness and literacy around issues of water conservation, serving as a great starting point for additional learning and reflection.

Further reading:

Causes of the Global Water Crisis and 12 Companies Trying to Solve It (TechCrunch)

More game-based learning resources from the Filament Games blog:

Game-Based Learning for Nonprofits
Video Games and Mental Health
Virtual Reality for Sports Training

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