Can Gaming Be Used For Social Change? Yes, And This Is How These Youngsters Are Doing It!

PUBG mobile season 2 began in India in 2018 and from May to mid-August, there were 130 million players across 200 countries who competed for the Chicken Dinner. The gaming app has seen an enviable rise in popularity, that is difficult to compete with; the online mobile game has engaged the players in such a way that it has caused borderline addiction. India is one of the top three countries in terms of the number of PUBG players. It has got people hooked!

The fun element about gaming is that there can be multiple kinds of games that can be experimented with, from board games to mobile games to something experiential and real time; there are no boundaries to the possibility of experimentation. It has a power to connect and bring people together. One wonders, if a game can do this, how exciting would it be to use it as a tool for social change.

Just like gaming, the journey of social change is also based on the principle of acting rather than being a spectator. This is exactly what ‘Be a Jagrik!’ initiative by ComMutiny – The Youth Collective intends to do – getting the adolescents and the youth hooked to our Constitution. The participants take on a six-week-long journey in their own area during which they perform various self and community tasks that helps them develop an understanding of how fundamental rights and duties play out in reality.

Sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic – these are some of the words that come to mind when one thinks of the Indian Constitution but they remain just words unless experienced in real life. One of the Jagriks, Muhammad Sahil, says, “I was aware about the Constitution earlier but I did not know that the rights are not being used by people. When my partner and I started performing the tasks, we realised that child labour is still affecting a lot of children although the Right against Exploitation exists, there needs to be more work done on ground so that these rights are realised.”

Photo: Youth Collective/Facebook.

 

During the time of the freedom struggle, these words held a lot of value and inspired the likes of Dr BR Ambedkar and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who were never hesitant to raise their voices against the inherent injustices in the society. We saw participation from all segments of the society at a time when we did not have a formal Constitution, and somehow in the years after the independence, the participation of the citizens saw a downfall, especially the youth.

This has to do with various reasons, one of them is that young people are being looked at from behind the lens of the demographic dividend, as people who would become the workforce of the country in the future. So the pressure on a young person is to get great grades, get admitted into a good college and get a high paying job; fitting right into the capitalist system. In such a situation, according to me, the space that is being lost is that for the youth to engage deeply in other matters of the society. Hence, there is a need to create spaces for reflection and action beyond economics for any kind of social change to take place.

Social change is a term that can be interpreted in a number of ways. According to Arjun Shekhar, one of the founding members of ComMutiny – the Youth Collective, change is all about the way we look at narratives and our narrative needs to shift from becoming active participants rather than passive spectators in the democracy. ‘Be a Jagrik! Samvidhan Live !… Live the SDGs’ sets a perfect example for this. It works because the adolescents and the youth who are  performing the tasks in the game not only understand the notion of privilege, power and purity intellectually but engage in real life experiences bringing the language of the Constitution to life; they build a personal connect to something that plays a role in their own lives.

They engage in individual as well as group tasks related to the Constitutional rights and duties. It often makes them challenge their own boundaries and reflect deeply about their own identity and the society around them.

“I had some perceptions and doubts about Muslims. One of the tasks that I had to do during the game along with my partner Sufiya was to visit religious spaces of different faiths, this also led to a conversation between Sufiya and I about our faiths and she explained various dimensions of Islam to me. Although I had known Sufiya earlier, this conversation had never opened up.”

Another initiative by ComMutiny that generates such dialogues was ‘Samjho Toh: Friendship Beyond Borders,’ that got young people from diverse backgrounds to come together and build cross-cultural friendships. Such initiatives facilitate the process of opening up conversations and create a space to understand the ‘other.’

One of the components of the Jagrik journey is ‘Jamghat’ or the spaces where the Jagriks come together every week to reflect together and create meaning out of their experiences and connect them to the issues in their societies such as gender inequality, social inclusion, education, etc. as sustainable development goals, which is an important element of the game. It helps the youth to connect the change they see in themselves and their community to the larger role of these actions in the world. In this way, the game does not end with the task but leads to reflection and a bigger change in mentality.

Photo: Youth Collective/Facebook.

Such an initiative has a huge role to play in a democracy because the Constitution is a source of building a ‘common’ language, a language to bring different people and perspectives together, and a source to ensure social inclusion. For instance, in the light of the recent Sabarimala case, the judgement of Justice DY Chandrachud, which ran up to 165 pages, concluded that the prejudice against women based on notions of impurity and pollution associated with menstruation is a symbol of exclusion and is a form of untouchability, which is an anathema to constitutional values of liberty and dignity. A verdict like this would have been almost impossible to imagine without the language that the Constitution provides us with, a language in the face of bigotry and patriarchy.

So the next question that comes to mind is that how can this language be made more accessible? According to Arjun, a change in mindset cannot be hammered in. He says that, “We should stop calling it mindset first of all and call it ‘mind flow,’ and start experimenting with experiential methods of bringing about more language and symbolic literacy so that people can critically analyse various dimensions of our democracy- political, economic and social.”

Over the last 5 years, 35 ComMutiny member organisations have engaged with over 17,500 Jagriks across 17 states. The game is indeed facilitating the process of change through building multi-dimensional narratives, and creating experiences and gaming is a perfect way to imagine and spread change as it transcends the boundaries formed by economic, political and social constructs!

Featured image source: Youth Collective/Facebook.
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