Games and their impact on learners have been long-standing topics for educators in terms of creating interactive learning experiences. When we hear “game”, we think, “fun”. This is great when we consider the idea of getting students engaged in an activity, but the question to be asked is, have the students really learned something? Taking a step further, has there been any change in the way the students think?  

As technology has advanced, educators have begun exploring ways that games can be used to trigger a transformative learning experience for students. One where they are nudged to question their points of view, reflect on their internal biases, and create shifts in existing perspectives. The powerful thing about games based on reality is that the learner is uninhibited. They can make choices that they normally would not have made in the real world, and they can also go back to select a different choice if they want to try another scenario.  

The GRID (Game Research and Immersive Design) team at TLT, in collaboration with Rutgers VPVA (Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance) has developed a powerful example of how games can be used to foster these kinds of learning experiences. Through the games in VPVA's “In Their Shoes” program, users are given a sense of what it feels like to be a survivor of interpersonal violence, more specifically, sexual violence, domestic and partner violence, stalking, and harassment. The sequence of the game can be compared to that of a “choose your own adventure”, where the story unfolds differently for each player based on the decisions they make. This experience gives the player a glimpse into a day in the life of the character, creating an opportunity to consider the weight of the choices they make in their unique situations. It invites learners to attempt to envision a survivor’s mental and emotional state by taking a walk “in their shoes”. While it is not possible to simulate an individual experience as complex as interpersonal violence, this program can develop empathy for survivors of such situations, which is especially important for students who may be going into related careers. This example demonstrates how games can play an important role in creating transformative learning experiences for serious issues that affect our lives and the lives of those around us.  

Watch this video from Games for Change to learn more about the major impact some organizations are making on society through the development of empathy-based games. If you would like to explore how games can be incorporated into your course in a similar way, contact GRID to discuss ideas and possibilities.  

Contributor: Kenny Chen, Creative Lead and Supervisor, GRID

Editor: Amina Khan, Instructional Designer