While a more comprehensive analysis is forthcoming, we are eager to share five things we learned from the project thus far.
1. Gaming is a cool and effective way to harness social energy of youth.
When we were weighing our options on how to engage with youth on employment, we really wanted to step outside of routine and have an authentic, exciting, and unconventional discussion.
We wanted to do so through play.
When people play, they are more open to discovery, opportunities and challenges. And when people play games, they can do all those things within a safe context outside of the strictures of everyday life.
The risk for introducing a game as a means to confront a serious problem is great: What if people discounted the idea as too frivolous or as making light of a serious situation?
That is something that game designers and implementers need to ask themselves when introducing a game in civic or development contexts.
We asked ourselves this question and decided the benefits of changing the tone of the conversation would outweigh the challenges of perception. That assumption has panned out in our favor.
Over 1,200 people from 97 communities in Moldova joined the game; 29 project ideas were put forward, and nearly US $2,000 was earned for local causes.
At the same time, these numbers hardly represent the levels of social energy invested and the richness of the discussions held.
Would we have been able to achieve the same through the usual approaches? Doubtful.
2. Forget the dismal science – Young people are eager to learn!
Remember your school days? The problem in much of our primary education is that information is presented as a one-way street: the message is supposed to travel, unencumbered, to the receiver.
But that is not how young people tend to receive and retain information. They want to discuss, connect and share with peers. Well-designed games can facilitate this.
In Youth@Work, the players had to answer questions related to the economic and social situation, legislative framework, and strategic policy frameworks in their country.
The majority of players reported having fun playing and “fun” should not be underestimated as a design strategy for meaningful policy discussions. Players learned about serious issues in the game, contributed to a larger policy input process, and had fun while doing it.
3. Empathy is key
Our ability to create empathy is key for engaging with partners and beneficiaries.
The experiences resulting from the game highlighted this fact. An important feature of the game is building social bonds with other players by allowing young people from various communities to talk to each other about the issues they face everyday.
When a young person mentioned that she saw migration a the best way to find a job, there was a lot of feedback from the other players, many of whom have already had experience with migration. Being able to talk to other young people potentially has a much greater impact than targeting youth through traditional campaigns of “expert talk.”
4. Games can provide a great deal of ethnographic data
As mentioned above, throughout the game the players brought with them the wealth of their personal experiences and generously shared it.The safety and anonymity of the gaming environment enables a type of honesty you may not get in an interview or focus group.
Honest discussions around these sensitive unemployment-related issues yielded significant input, and should be quite helpful in policy decision-making. With thousands of comments contributed to the game on these issues, decision makers should be able to consult this data for the foreseeable future.
5. Development is local
Youth unemployment is a complex matter and no game can simply solve it.
Smart public policies and funding on the national level, strong engagement of various actors, and even some luck in general development trends are needed to effectively tackle it. However, all this should not overshadow the fact that many things can, and should, be changed at the local level.
The top four causes selected in the game will receive funding and we will actively follow the progress of these initiatives. We will continue to connect with the entire player base via social media. Ultimately, with these new technologies and approaches, like online gaming, we feel new horizons and opportunities are really opening up.
We’re excited to see where it goes.