Games Bring Students in NYC and Bahrain Together to Build Real World Skills
Games for Change's Game Exchange
By participating in Games for Change’s Game Exchange, Saad and Venita connected with peers who have a shared interest in games and game design, helping them to develop their engaged citizenship, problem solving, and 21st century career skills.
When Saad, 15, and Venita, 17, started a game design program in class, they never imagined they’d find themselves working with students from halfway across the globe to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. But in their shared love of video games, they found a new way to connect, learn, and create meaningful change.
Saad’s class at Muharraq Youth Center in Bahrain was paired with Venita’s class at Goddard High School of Communication Arts and Technology in New York City through Games for Change’sGame Exchange, a unique virtual exchange program that reimagines cross-cultural connections by tapping into students’ interest in games and game design. Over two years, nearly 3,000 teens from the Bahrain, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States will come together for creative dialogue and collaborative projects focused on solving real-world problems and developing professional skills.
When looking for common ground across cultures, games are a no-brainer. By some estimates, nearly 3.1 billion people around the world are gamers, or 40% of the world’s total population. Play is a universal language – a way to experiment, explore, and get exposed to new ideas, perspectives, and experiences. In the context of cultural exchange, games offer a powerful way to connect with people with different backgrounds but similar interests. Saad found all of this – exposure to new places and people, along with a sense of connection and commonality – through Game Exchange. “I didn’t know anything about NYC before the program, but now I can say that I met people from a country far away and we have mutual interest and can connect with them easily through that interest,” Saad said.
“I didn't know anything about NYC before the program, but now I can say that I met people from a country far away and we have mutual interest and can connect with them easily through that interest."
Saad, Participant, Games for Change's Game Exchange
But in Game Exchange, students don’t just play games, they learn how to design them – turning their passions and hobbies into future career pathways. Game design is a powerful way to develop professional skills required in the 21st century, like creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, design thinking, and systems thinking. Game design also exposes students to STEM topics and careers. Saad enjoyed the time in class spent discussing game development and working on computers to create games. For Venita, the experience was eye-opening: “Game Exchange allows for creativity and to expand because there is so much to do [and build]. It’s fun working together with people, everyone learning at the same time. It also showed me what I’m capable of and that I can do anything I put my mind to,” she said.
Through game design, Saad and Venita not only had the opportunity to connect with other students from across the world, but also developed the agency to take charge of their individual and collective futures. In the Game Exchange program, students are challenged to design games that solve real-world problems tied to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Both Saad and Venita chose to design games focused on climate change and share a hope for a better future for our planet and people. “I chose Healthy Planet because I think it’s very important that we come together as a society and protect and clean up our earth,” Venita said.
“Game Exchange allows for creativity and to expand because there is so much to do [and build]. It’s fun working together with people, everyone learning at the same time. It also showed me what I'm capable of and that I can do anything I put my mind to."
Venita, Participant, Games for Change's Game Exchange
To design a game, it’s important to understand the way the different parts of the game connect to each other and anticipate how different choices a player makes will affect the outcome. In this way, game design becomes a way of understanding the systems at work in the world and identifying levers for change.
John Exume, Venita’s teacher, observed these benefits of game design at work with his students. “As an educator, I work to impart in my students the understanding that they are part of a much larger world than just their local communities. The Game Exchange program has provided a great opportunity for my students to interact with other students not from their local communities or even their country. The program made the concept of a much larger world more real for my students.”
Game Exchange is implemented by Games for Change and is supported by the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative (JCSVEI). JCSVEI is a U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs program administered by the Aspen Institute.