Lucas, Andreas, Frieda, Magdalena and Yanko are on a journey. They roam through Paris and Athens, Brussels and Berlin, or travel to the Arctic climate research station in Tromsø. They discover old documents like the Carta de Lei, with which, in 1867, the Portugese Parliament became one of the first in Europe to abolish the death penalty, and they visit the birthplace of the Solidarnosc (solidarity) movement in Gdańsk. Lucas and his friends are avatars that take gamers on a virtual journey of discovery to around 25 stations in Europe. With the Pathways augmented reality game, the Foreign Ministry, within the framework of Germany's Presidency of the Council of the EU, thus wants to make the European Union’s achievements a playful experience.
Using gaming to communicate about Europe
Lots of things that affect young people’s lives have something to do with the EU and cannot be taken for granted, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in an interview about Gamescom, such as “the fact that we live in democracies, in liberal states based on the rule of law – or that there is freedom of travel.” But sometimes, the Minister went on, it is hard to understand what’s going on in Brussels, or what’s happening during the German Presidency of the Council of the EU. “That’s why we are trying to bring Europe closer to young people as well with the Pathways game.”
Gaming has long become one of the most important platforms for communication in Europe. This was visible once more at the world’s largest trade fair for computer and video games, Gamescom. The number of gamers has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Germany alone nearly a third of the population plays digital games, whether on tablets, consoles, computers, or smartphones. On average, these gamers are 37 years old. Just as many women as men play video games. And gaming has changed: Many games have developed into social platforms, where players and spectators meet and exchange digitally.
The Federal Foreign Office, too, is responding to these developments. “Since digitalisation began, channels of communication have changed,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said at the opening of the Gamescom congress. A lot happens nowadays on social networks, and gaming is also popular, especially with young people. By contrast, said the Minister, the channels of communication in diplomacy often appear “very, very traditional” and sometimes difficult to understand. “That’s why we are looking for ways to translate diplomacy into the language of young people.”
Learning from each other through play
Gaming also offers the chance for us to learn from each other. What do young people think about politics? What do they expect of political actors? What do they wish for in Europe? To get a feeling for this, the Foreign Ministry let two diplomats listen to the players and speak with them about foreign policy while gaming in the “Let’s Play” format. A “Let’s Play” has players demonstrate new games and comment on them.
It is important for policymakers to learn what young people think about politics and about Europe, Foreign Minister Maas said, “because we want their thoughts to influence our work”. He continued: “I firmly believe that it is young people who are deciding the future of Europe, but also that Europe is deciding the future of the young generation.”
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