Decode Global: Engaging Youth Through Social Impact Games

July 24, 2013

3:00 pm

Angry Birds is about the present genocide of green pigs, in retaliation for past grievances committed against the birds in 1748, right? Okay, so maybe not, but what if mobile gaming could be utilized to narrate modern, global issues and mobilize (see what I did there?) youth activism? Well, that’s what Angelique Mannella hopes to achieve with Decode Global.

Decode Global is a startup that develops mobile games for social change. “The cool thing with games is that everyone likes to play them around the world. [Additionally,] with mobile tech, there’s huge penetration around the world – it’s a really accessible technology,” cites Mannella. In 2012, three-fourths of the global population owned mobile phones, with the number of worldwide smartphone use breaking the 1 billion mark. Globally, a collective 3 billion hours are spent (per week) playing video games. In the US alone, people above the age of 12 spent 131 hours playing video games in 2011 – with 99 percent of boys under 18 and 94 percent of girls under 18 reporting that they play video games regularly.

Decode Global released its first game, Get Water!, on World Water Day in March. Currently available only for iOS (an Android release is planned for September), the game highlights the global issue of water scarcity and its ties to girls’ inaccessibility to education.

“[We wanted] to come up with an innovative way to engage youth in global development challenges [and] to bring global challenges into the everyday environments of young North Americans,” says Mannella.

Decode Global currently works with a lot of different social impact organizations and education advocacy groups, such as Women for Water and the Global Campaign for Education; however, what’s most impressive is the startup’s engagement with young people. It’s worked with various DC-area high schools and student groups, getting students interested in, and advocating for, the benefits of using games to educate about global issues. They’re also working on educational workshops and creating other resources to help teachers incorporate games with social impact into the classroom.

“Our goal is to introduce games that aren’t normally seen in an educational context, into the classroom through designing complementary  learning curriculum,” says Mannella.

One of the most engaged ways Decode Global has accomplished this is through its Fellowship Program, created for recent grads with an interest in social impact and a game design, art, or technical background. “Get Water! was greatly influenced by [our Fellows]. [The game] is really a product of their thinking about what would make a fun and engaging game about water scarcity that they would play and their peers would play,” says Mannella. Following in its mission to engage a global audience, the Fellowship invites students from many parts of the world, with its current Fellows coming from the US, Brazil, Ukraine, and Finland.

Decode Global recently launched a fundraising campaign, during the International Startup Festival, in which any in-game purchases made throughout the duration of the Festival were matched and donated to charity: water. They are currently recruiting for their Fellowship Program starting in September.

Here’s a trailer of Decode Global’s first game, Get Water!, now available in the App Store.

[vimeo 59592550 w=500 h=281]

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.

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