Games as a Gateway to Understanding: How Games Can Help Youth Make Sense of Conflict

November 9, 2023 / by Arana Shapiro


At Games for Change, we believe that gaming is more than just a form of entertainment; it is a powerful medium for educating, informing, and promoting empathy. The events in the Middle East over the past month have brought a complex and contentious issue to the forefront of our minds and media. Helping youth to make sense of these types of conflicts can be challenging. However, games and game design can be a unique and effective way to engage young minds and encourage them to explore and understand complex issues. 

Engaging Narratives through Storytelling

Games offer a compelling narrative that can draw players into the heart of complex issues. By creating immersive experiences with detailed storylines, games can introduce players to historical, cultural, and political aspects of a conflict. Players can step into the shoes of different characters, from soldiers to civilians, and experience the emotional toll of living in a war-torn region. Games like “This War of Mine” and “Attentat 1942” have used storytelling to humanize the consequences of war, shedding light on personal stories often untold. This allows youth to connect with the experiences of individuals on both sides of the conflict.

It’s important to note that individual games may not cover a conflict directly, but they can serve as a starting point for youth to engage with the topic and develop empathy and a broader understanding of the human experiences within conflicts. Additionally, discussions and educational resources should complement the use of these games to provide historical and geopolitical context. 

The NY Times has compiled a comprehensive collection of resources that would pair well with the use of games to give youth a well-rounded understanding of the conflict and Common Sense Media recently published a well-resourced article about how to talk to youth about violence, crime, and war.

Promoting Critical Thinking

Games often require players to think critically, make choices, and solve complex problems. This cognitive engagement can be a valuable tool for educating young people about complex systems and conflicts. Strategy and simulation games, for instance, force players to consider the consequences of their decisions and develop an understanding of the intricacies involved in resolving conflicts. Games such as “Civilization” and “Age of Empires” encourage players to manage resources, negotiate, and engage in diplomacy, providing a unique perspective on the challenges faced in real-world conflicts. By immersing players in the decision-making process, these games stimulate critical thinking and promote a deeper understanding of the issues. 

Again, it’s important to design resources and experiences to help youth process the gameplay and make connections between their play and the current events.

Building Empathy

One of the most powerful aspects of gaming is its ability to build empathy. Game designers create experiences that encourage players to consider different perspectives and feel compassion for the characters in the game. Games like, “Bury me, my Love” and “Papers, Please” force players to confront the emotional and ethical dilemmas faced by individuals on all sides of a conflict. This empathy-building experience can help youth gain a better understanding of the human aspects of the war.

The current conflict between the Israeli government and Hamas is a multifaceted issue, and helping youth make sense of it can be challenging. Games and game design, with their power to immerse, educate, and build empathy, offer an effective means of engaging youth and promoting a more nuanced understanding of the conflict. By using gaming as a tool for education and empathy-building, we can empower the youth to think critically, explore various perspectives, and contribute to a more informed future.


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