Games for Good: How Apps for Good students are using games to teach and raise awareness.

Apps for Good has been nominated for GamesAid, sign-up and vote for us to show your support for the next generation of game developers, digital leaders and creative technologists.

In the below article, Business Development Executive Fergus explores the different ways that Apps for Good students are making an impact through games, and how the charity’s goals align with the needs of one of the UK’s fastest growing industries.

Games are a great way to transfer knowledge and spark interest. I remember playing Age of Empires as a kid, learning about Saladin and Joan of Arc as an 8 year old in a fun and engaging context has meant that my interest in history has endured as an adult. Beyond this, playing some games whilst growing up presented complex moral choices on a regular basis in immersive settings, fuelling my interest for philosophy which I ended up taking to degree level (I also don’t know if I would be as into football today had I not played a lot of Premier Manager 98 with my dad, but that’s probably a little less influential on my overall development).

What makes this form of media unique is being able to immerse yourself in a challenge, which is coincidentally a great way of learning. For me it was history, philosophy, sport and storytelling, and the developers of the games I have played are for the most part only trying to entertain rather than teach.

With this in mind, it strikes me as though there is potential out there to do something truly good with games on an educational level. Is that through making games that involve pointed educational content? At Apps for Good students are attempting to crack this difficult issue with some inspiring results.

Many of the ideas students on our courses in schools come up with are based around raising awareness of a certain issue, or helping other young people to learn about issues through play.  Some of the most successful apps trying to achieve this have come in the form of games or gamified content. My World of Atoms does a great job of engaging students with chemistry and the periodic table. The mobile game created by Apps for Good students Ben and Rebecca from Boswells school in Chelmsford takes the player on a journey of discovery across a landscape where they are able to collect elements to fill in the periodic table, and combine them to make compounds.

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Students taking our course are also using games to tell stories about real world issues that they care about. I was hugely impressed by Klaudia and Paweł, students from Gdynia that showcased Under the Eyelids at our Polish event this summer, a wonderfully designed platformer that takes players through the various stories of children affected by war, famine and other difficult circumstances, raising awareness of these issues as a result. We have also recently seen games created on our courses tackling subjects such as raising awareness among other young women about puberty, and teaching sign language in a fun and engaging way.

Through approaching the development of these ideas through a context that students care about, we see amazing games like these come to fruition. But it’s not just about the end product. Apps for Good’s mission statement describes the aim of the charity as “powering a generation to change their world with technology”, and that is exactly what we aim to have an impact on, both in the games industry and the wider tech sector.

The games industry is a massive contributor to UK GVA (1.4bn in 2015), and is growing. Thousands of new jobs are going to be needed over the next five years to support this growth, but recruiting talent is increasingly difficult. Added to this, there is a clear lack of gender representation with only 6% of technical or creative development roles filled by women, despite 48% of players the world over being female.

Furthermore, the broader games community is becoming more socially active, and millions of gamers are more responsive than ever to charitable efforts attached to games and their distribution platforms. This can be seen with the success of Humble Bundle and GamesAid’s new Digital for Good programme.

Apps for Good is working to introduce concepts, skills and experience that are in high demand in today’s technology job market to students of all backgrounds, with a focus on ensuring that girls and students facing barriers to their success are supported as a priority. We believe that our programme can have a direct impact on young people in this way, so that they can make a confident step towards becoming tomorrow’s socially-conscious tech leaders.

During the course of our campaign for the 2017 GamesAid vote, I have been getting in touch with studios across the UK that share our goals and mission and want to help us and the students that take our programme make a difference. We want to add more expertise in games to our expert community in order to help students take their projects further and gain vital real world context.

The funding that we would receive after a successful vote could be truly transformational in putting this network to greater use, as well as helping to broaden our reach in schools as we move into the next academic year.

I would love to see Apps for Good students crack the potential for games to educate on social issues, and I really believe that the examples that I have given above are only the beginning. I have already played a “Game for Good” created by Apps for Good students in the form of My World of Atoms, and I hope that with further support from the programme, talented young people like Ben and Rebecca can go on to develop games that teach us something important with some of the top studios in the UK.

If you are interested in having a chat about how your organisation can support or get involved, please get in touch with me! I am always keen to talk about our work and the different ways you might be able to support us.

Help build the next generation of tech talent and vote for Apps for Good for GamesAid 2017!