Gaming for Peace
Head of Rethinking Curriculum Programme, UNESCO MGIEP
Programme Coordinator, UNESCO MGIEP
UNESCO was established to “build defences of peace” in the minds of people.
Recent years have seen a number of vicious terrorist attacks on schools. The kidnapping of the Nigerian school girls, the brutal attack on a military school in Peshawar in 2014 and the carnage at a University in Northern Kenya in 2015 are all still fresh in our minds. Ideologically motivated violent attacks on educational institutions, however, are neither new nor exclusive to Islamic terrorist groups. According to a report by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism published in 2014, more than 3,400 terrorist attacks targeting educational institutions took place in 110 countries between 1970 and 2013. It seems as if proponents of violent attacks on our schools have long known that education may pose a threat to their destructive extremist ideology.
Violent extremists promote fear and division. We must respond with skills for critical thinking, with opportunities for civic engagement, with competences for dialogue across cultures.
In the UN General Assembly resolution on the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, adopted by consensus on 12 February 2016, Member States welcomed the Secretary-General’s initiative which acknowledges that nations must collectively move towards a more holistic and humanistic approach to combating violent extremism, as opposed to relying exclusively on security-based counter-terrorism methods. Parallel to this development in New York, preventing violent extremism through education (PVE) is quickly emerging as a growing area of concern for UNESCO. In November 2015, the UNESCO General Conference adopted a resolution on education as a tool to prevent violent extremism. Unquestionably, this is partly in response to the terrorist attacks on schools in Asia and Africa, but there is no denying that the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting and the November 2015 Paris attacks – the deadliest attacks on France since World War II — were instrumental in placing PVE higher on the agenda of UNESCO, headquartered in Paris.
In the aftermath of World War II, UNESCO was established to “build defences of peace” in the minds of people. Ironically, 70 years after its establishment, the role of UNESCO as a guardian of shared humanity and as a promoter of a culture of peace is more relevant and needed than ever before.
Contradicting the popular belief that video games are promoting real-world acts of violence or are frivolous at best, the game development community appears to be at the forefront of a new genre called “empathy games”.
Young minds that think critically and embrace a multiplicity of ideas are the best defense against violent extremism. Recognizing the transformative potential of the 1.8 billion adolescents and youth in the world today, the UN Secretary-General’s report on Plan of Action to Prevention of Violent Extremism emphasizes the need to harness the idealism, creativity and the energy of young people and others who feel disenfranchised. Indeed, the success of PVE will hinge on how we are able to effectively engage and sustain the curiosity of billions of youth around the world towards a shared mission – to shape a peaceful and sustainable future.
“There are a lot of ways that lead to war, but every war starts with a conflict. A conflict can consist of a lot of things, but in most cases conflict is about theology, ideology and ethnic reasons”, said 16-year-old Sander when asked to share his ideas on “War and Peace”. What prompted him to make such an intense statement? Was it a lecture on peace and conflict studies? Contrary to expectations, Sander wrote this blog after playing Sid Meier’s Civilization IV, a turn-based strategy (TBS) computer game at Nordahl Grieg High School in Bergen, Norway.
Video games may be the last thing educators think of introducing into the classroom as a means to prevent violent extremism. In fact, violent video games have often been blamed for real-life violence. But it we flip this argument, video games based on values of peace can be a powerful means to foster tolerance, empathy, and sensitivity towards the beliefs and traditions of others.
Sander said that playing Civilization IV inspired him to search and analyses data from the Norwegian Statistics Central agency so as to starkly juxtapose what happened inside the game with what happens in the real world. To the credit of the game – as well as to his teacher, Aleksander Husøy, who gave him the opportunity to play the game in his class – Sander has been able to better appreciate the nuances of QI (Quite Interesting), a show aired by the BBC that he has devotedly followed for the past few years. The game has inspired Sander to critically analyse media and effectively express his ideas during his English assignment, a language which is not his mother tongue.
In video games, students can role-play, make decisions, and explore consequences without the high stakes of the real world, rendering them essential learning tools for the 21st century. At Sander’s school, these digital games are being used to bring up topics relating to peace and conflict thus contributing to a meta-game experience that is not only enjoyable but extends learning to issues which are otherwise considered difficult to manage in a classroom environment.
Contradicting the popular belief that video games are promoting real-world acts of violence or are frivolous at best, the game development community appears to be at the forefront of a new genre called “empathy games”. To give an example, This War of Mine, a game where the player is in charge of a group of civilian survivors struggling with a lack of food and medicine in a war-torn fictional city, puts the spotlight on the players’ conscience and endurance as they experience the hardships of living each moment in a besieged city. Not only is the game steadily becoming a favorite among the teaching community from school to university level, it also offers avenues for youth to learn outside formal school settings.
“War is WORSE than Hell. In Hell, only the guilty suffer. In war, the innocent suffer, and the guilty prosper”. These are the words of a player whose handle name is “sycamore111”, which were found on a discussion forum for the game entitled This War of Mine. Resonating such spill-over effects of games, Jane McGonigal, in her book Reality is Broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world talks about how young hard-core gamers can develop talents that can prepare them to tackle real world challenges with regards to the likes of hunger, climate change and cancer.
With half a billion people around the world playing video games for at least one hour on any given day, and the probability of this duration negatively correlated to a person’s age, video games can be powerful tools that help make youth media engagement more meaningful, both within and outside classrooms. UNESCO’s 2016 report Rethinking Education described the youth of today as “the most educated, informed and connected generation in human history”. They represent a remarkable opportunity to put the world on a more peaceful and sustainable development path. In this Internet age, learning through digital gaming opens up whole new possibilities for fostering young people’s capacities to think critically and engage in dialogue across cultures, both in and outside of school.
In this Internet age, learning through digital gaming opens up whole new possibilities for fostering young people’s capacities to think critically and engage in dialogue across cultures…
In 2014, UNESCO MGIEP launched an international Gaming Challenge, soliciting proposals for video games to educate players on issues of peace and sustainable development. We received 104 submissions from 36 countries, including 32 inter-country collaborations. The finalists of this Challenge have received funding and mentorship to develop a game for casual players to further ideas of peace, sustainable development and global citizenship. Currently, our winning team from Hungary, Pocket Scientists, is developing World Rescue, which will be launched in the last quarter of 2016.
In addition, UNESCO MGIEP is developing Wealth Generator, a game for casual players, based on the Inclusive Wealth Report. The game draws on real data from the Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI), which makes sustainable development quantifiable by measuring the social value of a country’s productive base, including its natural and human capital. It is intended for use in undergraduate and graduate economics and sustainability-related courses to help students learn the importance of decision-making based on long-term environmental and societal implications – that is, well-being not captured in GDP – rather than short-term economic gains.
Is Sander’s school representative of the present-day use of technology in classrooms? Some would argue that Sander’s school is a special case in the global North, and one which cannot be compared to schools in developing countries. Stephen Sterling, a professor of sustainability education at the University of Plymouth in the UK said that “education is a slow learner”, referring to the slow pace of change in the education community and with regard to educational theory. With technology moving at an increasingly rapid pace, and education empowering the youth to contribute more than ever to the well-being of shared humanity and the planet in general, it is more relevant and needed than ever before. Now is the time that educators, academics, policy-makers and the creators of digital content join forces to innovate teaching and learning approaches. By bringing these multi-stakeholders together, UNESCO MGIEP strives to advance ICT-based pedagogies which can be scalable models for educating the next generation of peace builders and change makers.