NZGDA and the US Embassy Partner for Game Jam Focused on Social Change
8 December 2022

What do Game Developers do over a weekend to help discuss & combat disinformation and online bullying?  A game jam – an event where participants work in teams to attempt to make a game from scratch over a 48-hour period. Embassy Wellington was proud to partner with the New Zealand Game Developers Association (NZGDA ) to bring people together from across New Zealand on Discord  for the Koia Game Jam  – Koia, kei a koe!’ – Māori for “You’ve got it! You’re awesome!”.

While there are long-standing policies, infrastructure, and regulations in place to ensure the safety of children on playgrounds and in vehicles, there is little in the way of safeguards for online places where young people are spending an ever-growing amount of time. This has led to a proliferation of disinformation, misinformation and online cyberbullying over the past few decades, and has had innumerable consequences for mental health.Games have long been a place for learning, social exchange, and building connections with people online, and its potential for driving social change has only recently been explored. Organizations like Games for Change  have empowered a new generation of game creators and social innovators to combat toxic online cultures.

“Stimulating social change through media is incredibly difficult, but there are few mediums more suited to the challenge than games. Koia Jam provided an opportunity for people to explore the themes of misinformation and online safety in an engaging way and to spark critical thinking on complex issues” says NZGDA Chairperson Chelsea Rapp.

Event lead Ben Tuhoe Kenobi from the NZGDA discusses other times games have – or should have – tackled serious issues “Most people are only familiar with games that have mass appeal and large advertising budgets, but there have been plenty of life changing, perspective altering, games out for decades. What a lot of people don’t realize is Monopoly was designed to be a social commentary on a broken land-ownership system. Snakes and ladders was supposed to teach people about karma and later English societal values. Games can communicate but they can also simulate, we want to see what happens when the Koia games are put into the hands of players and we see the choices they make, and the feelings they feel.” You can see more on this discussion here .

Leading up to Koia Jam, NZGDA promoted YouTube videos discussing the Game Jam theme with many New Zealand Game Developers and Game Industry experts (the playlist can be viewed here ). Then, over a 48-hour period from November 25-27, Koia Jam brought 38 participants together online to attempt to create a playable game over a single weekend. The result…15 games with a theme of combatting online bullying and disinformation, some of which can be viewed here  and will be showcased through the NZGDA social media channels over the next few weeks.

Some great stories to come out of Koia Jam included a daughter and father development team duo who made a game together for the first time – both were very new to game design. They taught themselves how to develop using industry standard tools over the weekend for this Jam – no small feat! The game was inspired by the idea of making a friendly, moral tale for the next generation – for their own daughter / granddaughter respectively, making this a game that spans 3 generations! They hope when she is older she can play the game her mother and grandfather produced together – a heartwarming tale about a community of rabbits trying to keep their village together during a time of disagreement/polarity in the community! The team enjoyed the Jam so much they have decided to continue working on the game together as a family project and may even try and publish it to the public one day. Another highlight came from a participant who said that Koia was “…such a fun experience, it helped them get back into game design after an extended break from the industry”.

Carrot Heart.

“Bullying and the spreading of disinformation are global challenges, including in the gaming world. These are some of the biggest obstacles to being online nowadays in both Aotearoa New Zealand and the United States. We were proud to partner with NZGDA for Koia Jam 2022 to spread a message of positivity and inclusion online. Let’s play games and have fun together,” says U.S. Ambassador Tom Udall.

Let’s do it again. Stay tuned for more Koia in 2023.