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Gaming and the greater good

Kate Edwards and Matthew Daniels look ahead
Gaming and the greater good
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Kate Edwards is executive director of the Global Game Jam, CEO of Geogrify, and a member of the Advisory Board of Games for Good.

Matthew Daniels, J.D., Ph.D. is one of the founders of Games for Good.

If we look at where nearly three billion of us choose to socialize with our friends, entertain ourselves after school or work and how we prefer to learn, it takes us to gaming – the new family room for our world, revolutionized in recent years by the dramatic ascent of video games as a cultural phenomenon.

The potential power of games as an educational tool is vast and still largely unrealized.

Tomorrow’s university is right in our console, PC or mobile phone. We just have to figure out how to effectively design the curriculum for this medium.

The design process is actually common sense. Innovation in science and technology occur through iteration. We keep failing and succeeding until we create a better product, service or technology.

In the world of game creation, we have an unfortunate tendency of smart people assuming they can build games with educational and societal impact de novo because they have the pure passion to do so.

Like starting a restaurant, good luck. Few succeed.

“The problem with most educational games is that no one really plays them because their fundamental design almost always sucks.”

Plus, most of these efforts to produce games are only played by “captive audiences” who are required to play them for a class or a training exercise at work.

In slang terms, you might say that the problem with most educational games is that no one really plays them because their fundamental design almost always sucks.

We launched Games for Good to change all of this.

Build it where they already are

Our methodology is to import education and social purpose into the games that the world already plays. Rather than expecting a gaming audience to come to us, we must go to them.

This allows us to harness the full educational power of some of the world’s biggest game franchises, many with budgets that now eclipse even the largest Hollywood blockbuster.

In order to give satirical expression to this threat, we decided to modify one of the world’s most popular video games to raise awareness of the ongoing plight of women in Saudi Arabia.

This was the birth of Grand Theft Auto: The Saudi Version.


This free and fully legal mod (modification) of the wildly popular game known as GTA 5 allows players to play the role of a woman in Saudi Arabia who has newly been granted the right to drive.

However, due to the Saudi system, she cannot exercise a range of basic freedoms without male permission – including travel, employment and access to healthcare.

In this regard, Grand Theft Auto – The Saudi Version can be said to be an example of Aristotle’s famous adage that art is an imitation of life. Or more particularly, an imitation of the life of Manal al-Sharif, the Rosa Parks of the Saudi driving ban.

Manal al-Sharif started a minor revolution when she posted a video of herself driving in Saudi Arabia. She was arrested, but because of the reaction in large part from social media she was released days later.

As a result of her actions, more Saudi women began posting themselves driving on YouTube and were not arrested. That was a huge step forward for all women in Saudi Arabia. It was a peaceful social protest movement at its best.

Shortly after uploading a video of her driving on YouTube, she was amazed by the thunderous response. Her video views rapidly skyrocketed into the hundreds of thousands.

She started receiving threats and then death threats. Quickly she became a villain in her own country, the country she loves, and a hero to the outside world. She was arrested and thrown in jail.

“Let’s meet with the citizens of our world in our new family room and share ideas that may lead to insights, discussion and change.”

Manal Al-Sharif lived to see the day when world opinion eventually led to her government ending its driving ban. In celebrating that milestone, she stated “I believe a society will not be free until women of that society are free.”

For this reason, she and others continue to work on changing the legal system that denies basic rights to Saudi women.

What's next?

Our world has many topics of importance, ranging from equal rights to climate change to combating disinformation to racial injustice to ending censorship.

It is a long list. No country is perfect and we all know that we can improve.

If we think of this as a continual evolution of society’s rights and needs, we are on a journey together that can make a difference.

The question is how do we reach citizens of our world in a manner that is educational, entertaining and highly social? How do we provide information that can open minds, shape behavior and lead to long-lasting change that benefits all of us?

Harnessing the power of games is a key step in the right direction. Let’s meet with the citizens of our world in our new family room and share ideas that may lead to insights, discussion and change.

Given recent events in Afghanistan and beyond, the time for coordinated action is here. We believe Games for Good is already test driving what may well become the future of human rights education in our world.

You can find out more about Games for Good via its website