Are games the most under-utilised channel of communication?
A few years ago, when I worked for Oxfam, I was part of a refugee advocacy campaign. Our target was youth.
A group called Games for Change created a computer game to use. It was a two-dimensional game where the player navigated a woman and her child through a series of perils such as landmines to safety. On the journey, she would collect food and water (points) to sustain her.
As part of the project, we had also built a simulated refugee camp in the inner-city of Melbourne and were taking people through on tours. We launched the game in the lead-up to the opening of the camp. The game certainly got people's attention. The head of the project was interviewed by the most controversial radio host in Melbourne. He gave her a grilling but, by the end of the interview, had changed his view on the purpose of gaming.
Most people outside Asia see games as a frivolous pursuit for teenage boys. Although, in this case, teenagers were our target, 68% of gamers are over 18 - the average age is 30 - and 45% of gamers are female.
I was reminded of this recently when I saw a game advertised in New Zealand aimed at preventing deaths of young men through reckless driving. It's called Flash Driving Game. You can only play the game once and, when it ends, scenes from a young man's life pass over the screen.
One of the most powerful things about gaming as a medium is the emotion associated with it. As you play Flash, you can't control the speed of the car you are driving and it accelerates. The slick graphics and techno background music all add to the feeling of excitement and consequent shock when you inevitably crash. The mild kick of adrenalin leaves you with an experience that you remember far longer than a television commercial.
Games for Change have over a hundred games of their site that cover topics such as climate change and cancer. There is one called Endgame: Syria which is also available through App Stores and on Facebook. It is designed to help the gamer understand the issues in the conflict in Syria. It was complicated and it took me a little while to figure out how to exit it - a disquieting experience.
Games unfortunately have a stigma of childishness, but perhaps if we took them more seriously, we could harness a powerful medium and use it to change the conversation.