LEARNING TO COPE WITH TOMORROW'S
REALITY: SERIOUS GAMING FOR CIVIC
PARTICIPATION AND SOCIAL INCLUSION
Daina Gudoniene1, Tomas Blazauskas1, Peter Fruhmann2,
Maria Kyriakidou3, Maria Patsarika3, Alicia García-Holgado4,
Valentina Zangrando4, Francisco José García-Peñalvo4,
Afxentis Afxentiou5, Vitalija Kersiene1
1 Kaunas University of Technology, Faculty of Informatics, Lithuania
2 ZB&V, Netherlands
3 Educational Association Anatolia, Greece
4 GRIAL Research Group, University of Salamanca, Spain
5 Center for Social Innovation, Cyprus
Abstract. Europe 2020 is the European Union's growth strategy for the coming decade and its targets
include innovation, education and social inclusion. The combination of innovation and education is even
more novel and forthcoming in the European context. Especially in the out-of-classroom field, informal
education for young adults, the available learning opportunities are still very limited. Furthermore, the
addition of the third target of Europe 2020, that of social inclusion is essential to the growth-leading path
Europe needs to follow within the next decade because cohesion, interaction, mutual understanding,
non-discrimination are key parameters for the realization of a well-developed society. In this context, the
INGAME project, funded through the Erasmus+ Programme, proposes the development of a serious
game for young adults. This work presents game design focused on social and civic inclusion. The
interactive game aims to generate growth, and skill-building and at the same time address social
Keywords: Game, social, civic, inclusion, digital game.
In general, the youth studies field contributes to healthy, prosperous, and
sustainable democracies by trying to support the social and civic inclusion of
young people. To achieve social inclusion means to ensure all young people’s
human rights are protected, that all young people have the (human, cultural,
social and financial) capacities and available opportunities to participate fully in
the various life spheres (economic, social, cultural and political life), and attain a
good standard of living and quality of life within their respective countries. The
youth field takes up this challenge, and pays attention to those socially excluded,
vulnerable or at risk, and seeks to ensure their greater participation in decisions
that affect their lives (EU 2018).
The creation of games is an opportunity to gain practical experience and
thereby build up valuable knowledge. Digital games in the form of serious games
 on the one hand, or commercial games with didactic guidance on the other,
have a highly positive influence on the lessons in the classroom, after-school care
or leisure activities. Game based learning [2, 11] and gamification , if used
correctly, can also achieve motivational effects in education. However, a
potentially very strong use of play and games in education is still widely
underrated in the literature and applied projects: the use of game design as a
teaching method and especially the role of students as educational game
Games and gamification are widely used to motivate children and increase
learning outcomes. However, how games can motivate are quite varied and much
more complex than saying that games simply increase “fun.” Teachers often value
games to motivate low-performing students and students with learning
difficulties. The effect study shows that the co-op game Torchlight II used in
combination with analogue gamification tools may be used to increase at-risk
students’ social participation and decrease their sense of external regulation .
Another paper presents Social inclusion as a complex and often
misunderstood concept . For children with disabilities, research has
documented the degree of loneliness, bullying and exclusion they often
experience in their social lives. This paper presents the findings of a critical
literature review on the social inclusion of children with disabilities .
Reducing social gaps between neurodiverse individuals by encouraging and
supporting social inclusion is enabled by digital technology, which improves
individual’s quality of life. The increasing accessibility of high fidelity VR (Virtual
Reality) technology allows the creation of VR-based tools for social and academic
skill development. Engaging multisensory stimuli, embodied interactions and
communication allow users to experience social settings in entirely new ways with
great possibilities in customization of user preferences. At the same time, the
sensation of presence may become a means to increased enjoyment of
educational activities .
Figure 1. Visualizing our conceptualization of inclusion and empowerment and the
relationship between these concepts 
Having elaborated on the concepts of inclusion, empowerment and digital
games, we will now zoom into how these are related. This begins with a general
overview of the rationale for and conceptualization of using digital games as an
engaging means to induce change. This is followed by a discussion of the
characteristics of digital games (e.g. interactive, motivational, social aspects) that
are perceived as particularly suitable for supporting empowerment and inclusion
However, the main challenges related to social inclusion of young people
are youth unemployment and integration in the labor market and youth
entrepreneurship. Socially excluded young people usually come from socially
vulnerable families, families with limited parental rights, orphanages, youth living
in remote/rural areas, children of migrant workers and immigrants, children of
ethnic minorities, and young people with any physical or mental disabilities and
unemployed young people.
Furthermore, there are more (general) challenges: online environments (i.e.
social media) have fragmented our focus, the value of information and empathy
towards each other. Global tensions are rising due to pandemics, the threat of
global warming, housing, depletion of natural resources, and more. Democracies
are in danger of being undermined by polarizing politicians or disruptive
demagogues who are putting pressure on ‘endangered’ identities (individual,
group, national). Furthermore, there are still advocates of an ever-growing
economy and consumption. “We treat the future like a distant colonial outpost
devoid of people” . All that places a heavy burden on the current school-
going and studying generation and their future offspring. Some of them are
already aware of that and act accordingly, although they often find their justified
arguments (i.e. climate measures) bogged down in political wrangling or stalling.
The ‘silver lining’ might be co-operation. It is a product of human evolution:
group cohesion is one of our most important survival strategies . We are able
to create networks that extend beyond ‘our group’ .
Civic participation is such an example. It refers to participating in community
affairs, including contributing one’s knowledge, skills, and values, to make a
difference in society and potentially bring about positive change. Civic
participation aims to raise the standards and quality of life in one’s community
through commitment and motivation. Young people are considered very
important in civic participation because they bring new and innovative ideas.
Civic participation is crucial because it teaches us how to live and work together,
to appreciate different opinions, values and beliefs in a tolerant manner. Through
civic participation we become aware of difficulties, social problems and moral
questions in society, and are aware that there are possibilities to change and
build stronger community ties. Only through active engagement do people get
involved in their communities to make change for a better future. One very
important factor that gets people involved in various civic activities is whether
their social circles, friends, acquaintances or family members, include people who
would invite and encourage them to get involved. Finally, civic participation can
increase – bottom-up - collaboration between citizens and governments and
improve policies (i.e. petitions, Right To Challenge). There is a word of warning,
though:”…the level of participation in Western democracies can be seen as a
continuum: at one end of the spectrum citizens have no interest at all – they do
not read, are not or do not want to be informed, they do not vote, petition or
demonstrate, at the other end are informed, vote, get involved in civic
associations…” . The group of young citizens who are on the ‘one end’
deserve the most attention and are the group where awareness and readiness for
action can be generated.
Next to citizen participation, citizen engagement – an initiative initiated by a
government - should be mentioned as well as a collaborative goal. Its challenge
is identifying what is important for citizens, convincing (and inviting) them to
engage, and offering them the necessary support/information to make well-
founded decisions . Some authors promote this idea as a stepping stone to a
‘deliberative’ democracy .
INGAME (Gaming for Social Inclusion and Civic Participation – A holistic
approach for a cultural shift in education and policy)  is a project that
incorporates all of the above three targets and by its very innovative, digital
nature it brings down barriers to knowledge, explores new headways to adult
education and promotes favorable attitudes towards social inclusion among
youth who have completed their formal education and training. Furthermore, it
assists the building of cooperative competences that are useful not only as civic
engagement tools but also as life skills. For instance, civic engagement and
governance involves members of the general public to be concerned citizens and
active contributors to public affairs. For this level of civic participation to occur,
the development of specific competences is necessary. In response to this need,
INGAME works with notions of social awareness, responsible decision-making,
self-management, and self-awareness to strengthen competences such as critical
and inventive thinking, as well as civic literacy and cross-cultural understandings.
Finally, though INGAME can be of value to local societies, it eventually evolves
beyond the national level to the European dimension and presents a
comprehensive response to the European problems that are tackled through the
Europe 2020 action plan.
The European future growth should come from innovative ideas that will be
turned into products and services that could provide genuine benefits for its
citizens in all social, professional and civic environments. Novel ideas based on a
new space, cyberspace, fast and easily accessible from people all over Europe
facilitate how we assess and envisage our social and political contexts and point
to new directions in European cooperation with better quality of life. In addition,
recent years have seen an appreciation of games' educational and learning
benefits. Specifically, gamers' involvement in virtual environments that simulate
authenticity is associated with the development of practical skills, especially
concerning setting clear and achievable goals and operating actively within the
environment provided by the game. A game’s educational setup adds to
traditional “written-text” approaches seen in formal education settings, as the
former moves away from the latter’s static limitations and capitalizes on the
visualization and presentational potential of online multimedia environments.
Providing a platform that allows young learners to engage in a compelling
gaming activity with many other gamers from different European countries and
providing access to trans-national assessment, exchange of good practices and
regular feedback and maintenance of this platform could be best achieved by
well-matched partners from different countries working together for a common
goal. INGAME is a project with European importance; the successful realization of
the project will certainly benefit not only European society but also individual
partner organizations, which can gain from the experience of transnational
collaborative environments, trans-national partnership and teamwork.
The INGAME project draws on several emergent proved-effective
methods/approaches, linked with the latest advancement in game-based
pedagogies, that, put together by an experienced and multiverse partnership
(which not only represents end-users but will also foster a close relationship with
relevant stakeholders although the project) will allow systemic changes towards
inclusive societies. The basis of the proposed adventure for the creation,
proliferation and preservation of positive environments, that respect, embrace
and celebrate diversity, includes: a role-playing adventure, online game build
based on several innovative pedagogical methods (such as project-based
learning, cooperative learning and peer learning), a participatory approach
(targeting a large spectrum of stakeholders), and a fluid and adaptive approach
of educational games development methods (where participants can co-develop
their narratives and game missions).
Through its innovative methodological design, the project priorities are to:
Create and promote meaningful culturally sensitive curricula, in the form
of an attractive game narrative, encourage the adoption of holistic
approaches to learner development, creating and mainstream effective
innovative pedagogies which help unite learners and facilitate cooperation;
Empower the educators and the youth workers and trainers by reinforcing
their sociological, socio psychological and socio-educational knowledge
and competencies, raise awareness of specific difficulties facing
disadvantaged learners and generally the youth, and identify and apply
methods that most effectively increase the motivation and improve
educational attainment of youth;
Foster a democratic and inclusive culture which values diversity and allows
space for dialogue and discussion on controversial issues at the local and
the wider community, and actively engage all members of the community;
Establish and maintain cross-sectoral alliances and stronger cooperation
between a wide range of actors (educational institutions and learning
providers, youth organizations, public authorities, stakeholder and civil
society organizations, business, etc.) in the field of inclusive learning.
Two members of the INGAME consortium are educational institutions,
namely, the lead partner University of Salamanca (USAL) from Spain and
Educational Associational Anatolia (EEA) from Greece. The EEA team suggested
the importance of including an advisory board made of college students that will
assist the development of the game. For this reason, the leader agreed and two
advisory groups of volunteer students were created (one in EAA and another in
USAL). The first one started to contribute to the design of the game's narrative
and the different action fields significantly. The young students belong to the
target age group of the INGAME project, they offer insightful inputs to the
development of the INGAME. The students from Educational Associational
Anatolia have so far been sharing with the researchers of the consortium their
ideas about how to best develop INGAME as an engaging educational game to
counteract civic apathy. This is still an ongoing project but the students in Greece
were presented with a qualitative questionnaire that shows that young adults
discuss peer civic engagement in a reflective way. They are well aware of current
challenges but they are sometimes hesitant to be actively involved with civic
matters because of outdated participation modalities while they acknowledge
and disapprove of youth’s lack of motivation to act on major social problems.
3. INTERACTIVE GAME
INGAME Educational Design, Storyline and Narrative of the game and the
overall content is focused on fostering EU citizens’ positive attitudes towards
social inclusion, gender equality, civic participation developing intercultural skills
and competencies. The INGAME design process will be developed and presented
for youth social and civic inclusion. The game storyboards and content outline are
divided into thematic topics comprising sections with specific learning objectives,
learning activities, related learning material and tools based on the philosophy of
adventure games and role playing, such as the Food Force, Choices and Voices,
Immigration Nation. The curriculum (which outlines the overall learning process
of the game) and the content (developed within the storyboards) will be
integrated into the technological (web, visuals, digital and graphic designs)
infrastructure of the game, which will be developed in parallel with the content.
Figure 2. Narrative development
The content development should comply with the following standards,
addressed by the Curriculum and Content Outline
Curriculum Adequacy. This standard addresses whether the INGAME
content under development is compatible with the styles of learners, easily
incorporated into existing structures, and compatible with activities and
procedures foreseen. Critical aspect of this standard is the ability of the
content to be adapted in various contexts, cultural, social, affordances
envisioned for the game;
Instructional Adequacy. The instructional adequacy component refers to
the extent to which the content under development provides the
necessary support for learning and meeting the instructional objectives as
set in the theoretical framework and the curriculum;
Visual Adequacy. This component refers to what the INGAME content
under development actually looks like. Areas of concern include the
interconnection of images, animations and text, and the type and format
of content communicated to the user;
Technical Adequacy. This component refers to the actual content
delivered online and how it is interconnected with the game's technical
4. FRAME NARRATIVE – STRUCTURE PROPOSAL
The game’ structure is designed to create and/or enhance awareness of the
‘big themes’ in current society and incite engagement and action readiness in
young adults. It is a ‘coming of age journey’ of a young (somehow humanoid)
refugee (the avatar) from outer space, who has landed on our planet because it
needs an oxygen-rich atmosphere. Despite its undoubted idiosyncratic
(technological) knowledge, it must survive on Earth, an unknown and perhaps
hostile environment. It will require knowledge of its inhabitants as well, thus
human (social) behavior, individually and collectively. How do they grow up, what
are the benefits and pitfalls of educational systems, do they cooperate, how do
they stand to one another, in small or larger communities and societies? How
much freedom of movement does one allow 'the other', and what about a total
stranger? What are successful sustainable ways of living and surviving together?
How much does one care about a healthy environment and climate? What to do
when you find yourself in an endangered environment? How does one react to
crises, is one prepared for them? What are the (long-term) opportunities and
The inquisitive and curious avatar (the player) is assisted by a mentor (a
‘guiding’ star) who gives him a nudge now and then to explore and who asks
helpful or reflective questions. During the game, the avatar learns to understand
human nature, the problems and challenges that can arise in communities and
societies, not only socially, economically and technologically but also what the
consequences of human activities can be for the planet, their precious habitat.
However, the avatar also meets (young) others and learns actively which
(collaborative) initiatives and activities can lead to healthy long-term solutions.
With the growing knowledge (by trial and error), it grows (literally and
figuratively) level by level into a world citizen, capable of cooperating and putting
knowledge into action for the common good.
When clicking on objects, a mix of information and (within object)
additional/facilitating questions will appear. All questions are intended to
promote reflection (maybe sometimes there can also be asked: “What do your
friends think about that? Have you ever asked your friends / parents/ etc. about
that?”) or invite/challenge to investigate/click further
Levels. When one level is finished and the player wants to continue (walking
further to the right (to the next scene) seems possible, the mentor blocks the way
and asks assessment questions (multiple choice). If a question is not answered
correctly, the player has to return to the object in question to check once more (a
little bit of ‘frustration’ built in but easily solved). Sometimes assessment
questions will be in the course of a level as well. Sometimes questions are
‘merely’ inviting to reflect and nudging to share with peers or other
acquaintances. When all questions are correct, the player / avatar will grow a bit
bigger (reward 1, “Wow, you have grown!”) and the mentor will put a puzzle
piece (reward 2, “We’ll save this for later…”) into the players ‘vault’ (not yet
accessible). The mentor will shrink or fade away so that the player can move on to
the next level.
The levels’ objectives and content in short: 1. Gender Equality (Gender
and sex; gender identity and gender roles; gender (in)equality); gender norms
and exclusion (discrimination)). 2. Education / Equity & Equality (how cultural and
socio-economic backgrounds, political and social trends and discourses (and
prejudices) can shape the education process and the self-perception up to
finding a place in society and the job market). 3. Social Inclusion / Integration
(prevention of social exclusion (including stigmatization, stereotyping,
discrimination, racism) in different spaces: the labor market, participation in
communities, in public policy). 4. Urban Life / Civic participation and engagement
(awareness of neighborhood (citizens’) initiatives that promote cohesion and
sustainability, and the potential resourcefulness of mixed, diverse neighborhoods,
awareness of gentrification, future (sustainable) cities), 5. Environment / Climate /
Sustainability (Water and air pollution and its consequences for the atmosphere,
political and business procrastination, greenwashing, innovative and sustainable
solutions and potential citizens’ initiatives) 6. Global Issues / Crises (awareness of
the possibilities citizens have to influence governments and governance, learn
about different (democratic) governance styles, and which can be useful in
decisions in the long term, benefits and pitfalls of migration, alternative
(sustainable, climate-friendly) economy, being a ‘good ancestor’).
The last reward and ending. The mentor disappears after receiving the last
puzzle piece (= reward) in the vault. Now it is possible to enter the vault and see
the puzzle pieces come together in something beautiful and precious.
INGAME Educational Design, Storyline and Narrative of the game will deliver
an overall content for fostering EU citizens’ positive attitudes towards social
inclusion, gender equality, civic participation developing intercultural skills and
The INGAME invites and stimulates people to engage and participate. It
corresponds to the challenge of empowering and building resilience in young
people to participate in society on many levels, and develops capacities to
socially and culturally engage and enter the labor market, etc.
The digital transformation of society offers new challenges and tremendous
opportunities to achieve social and civic inclusion.
This project was undertaken with the support of the Erasmus+ Programme
of the European Union in its Key Action 3: “Social inclusion and common values:
the contribution in the field of education and training”. Project “INGAME -
Gaming for Social Inclusion and Civic Participation – A holistic approach for a
cultural shift in education and policy” (Reference number 612166-ES-EPPKA3-IPI-
SOC-IN). The European Commission's support for the production of this
publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the
views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for
any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
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