By Paul Darvasi,
Digital games have migrated from trivial forms of entertainment occupying the stigmatized margins of society, to exercising an increasingly powerful influence on quotidian culture. The advent of their social importance has led scholars like Mary Flanagan and Henry Jenkins to proclaim video games the media paradigm of the 21st century. As games have matured over the last decade, an abundance of experimental and artistic genres have emerged that are specifically designed to address complex social issues. These “serious games”, as they are broadly categorized, do far more than entertain: they can act as catalysts to engender awareness and activate positive social change. Whether walking in the shoes of a Sudanese villager, helping a Tutsi mother hide with her baby during the Rwandan genocide, or managing resources in a Nepalese village to fend of starvation, video games have become powerful embodied learning tools that produce empathy, understanding, and skill acquisition, all of which support an agenda of humane conflict resolution and sustainable development.
Where print and motion picture are spectatorial, and therefore largely passive in nature, digital games demand active and immersive participation, which may produce deeper and more sustained cognitive and affective absorption. This paper will review current research to explore how the unique interreactive and participatory qualities of digital games and simulations might further the aims of education, development and civil society. On an immediate level, they can be used in classrooms as effective and timely additions to the pedagogical repertoire, but they are also powerful vehicles that promote awareness and, more importantly, encourage action to address some of the most pressing social issues of our time.