It’s a gamechanger: Gamification for civil society

How can civil society get people interested in their work, share their solutions and engage even the most disinterested person? Gamification may have the answer.

Gamification is a powerful way for civil society to engage audiences in difficult or unpopular issues by making them accessible, interesting and even fun to get involved with.

At the Prague Civil Society Centre we are always on the lookout for inventive and innovative ways for civil society to get its message across. Often NGOs and activists have great ideas on how to solve social issues but struggle to reach enough people to translate these ideas into change. Our Gamechanger workshops show how gamification can be used by civil society to broaden its audience.

For those unfamiliar with gamification, it should be stressed this does not mean that we are looking for some kind of socially minded Grand Theft Auto. Rather, gamification simply refers to the integration of game mechanics in a way that makes information interactive and engaging. Something as simple as interactive text based story telling, where the readers get to shape the story themselves, is a good example of gamification.

Our second Gamechanger workshop brought several activists from Eastern Europe and Central Asia to Prague to come up with gamified solutions to spread the message about the social issues they campaign on. Of course, we did not expect them to do this alone. Some of the regions most talented designers and programmers also made the trip to Prague to lend a hand and help conceptualise the games and interactive formats.

In total seven NGOs were represented and each was paired with a programmer and designer. The issues tackled ranged from youth suicide prevention in Kazakhstan and ecological activism in Russia to bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. Uniting all the projects was a need to find a creative way to engage the target audience and get the message across. Although such topics may seem too serious to make a game about, in fact turning a such issues into something more light hearted can result in people actually engaging with the problem rather than avoiding it.

From selecting the situation, to the virtual conversation to the feedback from the game.

One of the most striking projects dealt with the prevalence of youth suicide in Kazakhstan. The country has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, particularly among young men. With parents best placed to spot the signs, but often unaware of how to help their children or even speak to them about it, there is a need for information and advice on the matter. The team’s solution was a simple text based game, tastefully illustrated, through which concerned parents can identify the behaviour they find worrying and experiment with different ways of engaging their child about it.

For example, they could be concerned their child is constantly on the computer. The game then presents the parents with potential options such as ignoring the situation, asking to speak with the child or broaching the issue with a closed question. This then starts a virtual conversation, complete with a series of likely answers from the child whilst giving the parent the choice of potential replies. The game gives feedback on the conversation as it progresses, ending with an evaluation. As a result, when the parent speaks to their child in real life they are mentally prepared and have a good idea how to be constructive and help rather than alienate the child further.

Slick, easy to use and with a clear target audience, this project demonstrates the potential of gamification to transform difficult topics into approachable and understandable chunks that the user can digest easily. It’s far more engaging than a pamphlet or booklet can ever be. As one participant noted, “the idea of a game helped me see that the usual thing you try to convey every day can sound completely different and become more vivid and effective.”