This Google-backed nonprofit proves that games can be educational and fun

Then my eight year old son told me he made his friends happy and fought bullies in a video game, i was curious. He told me about Friendly Kingdom, a game his school librarian recommended. On his computer, my son walked his character up to a friend whose head was down and gave the other character a heart. The friend lifted his head and smiled. Then my son maneuvered the player down a path and encountered a bully who jumped up and down with gritted teeth. One quick series of button presses and the bully was behind bars.

Friendly Kingdom was created by Interland, a division of Google, and is part of a four-game series that teaches players about internet safety, such as building strong passwords and only interacting with trusted friends online. I especially liked that the lessons are also widely applicable in life.

I found Friendly Kingdom mentioned at Games for change, a non-profit organization that promotes and supports creators who use games for social good. Arana Shapiro, general manager and chief learning officer at Games for Change, explains that “Friendly Kingdom is a game we show because it has a good message. It promotes online safety and media literacy. Games are where kids are and how people connect. We play and come together. We know this is a natural state for young people, so we lean into it and use that medium to promote the good.”

The Games for Change site serves as a portal for others to find games that can teach, encourage and inspire. The site is searchable and has age ratings and tags for content, such as grief or mental health, and it was easy to find more games, such as Friendly Kingdom. For example, Before I forget teaches players about the emotional struggle of living with dementia and was nominated for a BAFTA award. Bombings 1942 teaches players about World War II through the eyes of Holocaust survivors. 1000 cut trip shifts the player’s perspective to better understand racism and discrimination, from pure hatred to micro-aggressions. Best of all, they’re all games that help people understand situations they may never experience in person.

Games for Change was founded in 2004 by Benjamin Stokes, author of the book Played Locally: Real World Games for stronger places and community; Susan Seggerman, speaker and advisor new media and social impact; and Barry Joseph, an expert in digital engagementwith a mission to use video games for social good and a belief in the ability of gaming to teach people history, new skills and more without necessarily being branded as “educational.”

Eventually, the team expanded and began working with third-party game developers such as Half the sky from India; leti games, a Kenyan game company; and Frima, a Canadian developer who also wanted to design games for social impact. “The company has grown steadily over the past six or seven years as gamification has become so popular. We all have a game console in our pocket. We’re not gaming in basements anymore. Are you playing word or Candy Crush? That makes you a gamer,” says Shapiro. “Many of us play games all day long and, when used properly, that way of communicating can make a big difference in the empathy people have for others.”

While Games for Change is a great place to find social impact games, it offers many other gaming-related features and even gets involved as executive producers on new projects. Mental health, for example, is a boundary that is rarely properly explored in video games, and the team is currently working with it Goliath on a game that puts the player in the shoes of a person with schizophrenia. “There’s something about that experience of really feeling and tasting and touching that gives us a different kind of understanding,” Shapiro explains.

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