Video games can be played on consoles, PC’s, arcade stands, or on mobile devices; regardless of the platform they are played on, video games seek to engage players in achieving a wide range of goals in an interactive and stimulating way. Source: NY Daily News
Video games can be played on consoles, PC’s, arcade stands, or on mobile devices; regardless of the platform they are played on, video games seek to engage players in achieving a wide range of goals in an interactive and stimulating way. Source: NY Daily News

Recently, we’ve been thinking a lot about videogames.

Across the world, an increasing number of minds are talking about the awesome educational and world-saving potential hiding amidst the worlds of Warcraft, Civilization, even Oregon Trail, etc. Organizations like Institute of Play and Games for Change are founded on the premise that video games can bring us a better world, and are coming up with incredible ways to put that premise into action. A quick listen to Jane McGonigal’s  (founder of Gameful, the “secret HQ for world-changing developers”) TED Talk shares an emerging vision: that video games can unlock creativity, improve strategy and coordination skills, empower players, and teach them ways to improve themselves and the world around them within and outside of the game.

UNICEF has already been involved in some awesome applications of gaming and game design tools. I spoke with Kyle Spencer (Innovation Lab Uganda) to hear about some awesome game-related projects they’re working on. Kyle talked about ways the innovation team in Uganda has already started integrating game design tools into some of the Innovation Lab Products. Working with Scratch, the lab has brought game design tools into the Digital Drum, along with video tutorials in the Content Portal which demonstrate how to use them. These projects are still in the developing phases, but as they move forward we will write blog updates to see how gaming is helping innovation teams across the globe create real solutions.

Youth are historically the main audience for video games, making gaming an excellent opportunity to bring education to youth in an engaging way. Source: Christian Science Monitor
Youth are historically the main audience for video games, making gaming an excellent opportunity to bring education to youth in an engaging way. Source: Christian Science Monitor

UNICEF has also looked at designing new video games for the purpose of spreading awareness about critical issues facing youth and vulnerable populations around the world (see The Toilet Trek game). Now, the innovation unit has partnered with a major video game manufacturer and the Brazil country office (CO) to create an awesome new project that combines video games, football, learning, and competition into an innovative education and engagement tool. We’re designing a contest for university students across Sao Paulo to come together, form teams, and create educational video games themed on the upcoming world cup that will help kids ages 7-8 across Brazil learn basic literacy and mathematic skills.

Just like playing a videogame, designing innovative projects requires strategic thinking. As some of our most recent blog-posts have discussed, developing any great strategy requires trying and failing along the way to innovation and success. In a video game, a player spends time, energy (lives, money, power, etc.), and creativity trying to reach a goal; with each failure, the player learns a lesson, and heads back into the virtual world more equipped to reach that goal. One of our greatest assets here at UNICEF is the collection of past experiences we’ve had in entering the world of academic partnerships, student contests, and global collaborations. We can look to all these “past lives” to learn what has worked, what hasn’t, and how we should apply those lessons to this new video-game design contest to reach our goal of creating the best contest and best product possible.

In my next few blog posts, I’ll write a series about the lessons we’ve learned from working on student contests, collaborations, and partnership projects involving lots of players, some great wins, and some losses to make sure this next project is an ‘epic win.’  Stay tuned.

Jennie Bernstein
Brazil Game Project Lead
Innovation Unit, UNICEF NYHQ

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