On the 15th of September 2020, UNICEF launched a new initiative using online gaming to challenge stereotypes about refugee and migrant children (UNICEF, 2020). According to UNICEF Director of Private Fundraising and Partnerships, Gary Stahl, gaming can act as a social equalizer, allowing children of diverse backgrounds to focus on what makes them similar instead of different and it can create a fun and comfortable environment through which they can start learning about acceptance (UNICEF, 2020).
Recent studies have also shown how the process of gamification can create democratic spaces for social interaction, engaging diverse actors in joyful encounters to contribute toward democratic dialogue, integration, and inclusion (Jammerman & Tunc, 2022). It has been argued that video games are a particularly successful tool to foster integration activities bringing together migrants and members of the host communities, due to their ability to provide a safe-to-fail space, which can have a drastic impact on social processes using people’s motivation and willingness to learn about new cultures and different beliefs (Jammerman & Tunc, 2022).
The Citizens in Power team has used this theoretical framework to develop several pedagogical sequences in the political sciences, with a particular focus on migration and inclusion. One of the sequences developed by our team is called “Step in the shoes of a refugee for 21 days”. Although this sequence is primarily targeted at educators and students, it can also be used within the wider community to enhance the process of social integration and inclusion, and to foster empathy among host communities.
For example, we have used this sequence in a group of volunteers under the context of an AMIF (Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund) project known as DREAMM (Develop and Realise Empowering Actions for Mentoring Migrants) to foster empathy and enhance the process of social integration in Cyprus. After an initial introduction to the topic of migration and inclusion, we shared the pedagogical sequence with our group of volunteers and gave them some time to look at introductory videos and play the game on their own. The sequence uses a video game called “21 Days” and it is a simulation game in which the player experiences the life of a Syrian refugee who fled his home and is seeking asylum in Europe.
By the end of the workshop, our volunteers were in a position to know the difference between a migrant, a refugee, and an asylum seeker and they also became more aware of the everyday challenges people face when fleeing their homes.
We received many interesting comments from the workshop. For example, one participant said: “It’s easy to say that you are aware of the struggles of refugees, but stepping in the shoes of a refugee even through a video game can entirely change your understanding.”
Another participant said: “I really enjoyed this experience although it was emotionally tense! Now I definitely feel more comfortable as a volunteer in a project on social integration, as I feel more aware of the current situation on migration and inclusion.”
You can try similar activities and share your experience with us on social media using our hashtag #gaming4skills. Stay tuned for more news on our upcoming pedagogical sequences on our project’s website.
Jammermann, M. & Tunc, B., (2022), “The Potential of Gamification for Humanitarian Organisations to Support Integration in Migration Contexts”, https://www.igi-global.com/chapter/the-potential-of-gamification-for-humanitarian-organizations-to-support-integration-in-migration-contexts/296455.
UNICEF, (2020), “UNICEF uses online gaming to showcase potential, skills and creativity of refugee and migrant children”, https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/unicef-uses-online-gaming-showcase-potential-skills-and-creativity-refugee-and.
STEAM, “21 Days”, 21 Days on Steam (steampowered.com).