Playing social games can ignite people-led change

Published reports from game studies, playful participation and sociology have shown that games can be a powerful tool to make positive change at the individual, community and institutional level


What are social games?


Social games are playful toolkits and activities that exist to alter or strengthen social relationships between the players and inspire practical action towards change.

Unlike ‘serious games’ which exist to teach players new skills or knowledge, ‘social games’ exist to form social bonds and feelings of belonging to a social group, so people and teams can work better together. Social games are co-developed with the players, which builds a sense of ownership and stimulates behaviours that extend beyond the gameplay. 



The positive outcomes of social games

Social games help people function better together - whether in communities or in the workplace. When people play together powerful things happen.


Ownership and openness

Social games put people in the lead and encourage players to collectively take ownership over their experience. When people feel ownership and immersion, this generates a state of openness to explore, discover and adapt.


Creates connections

Social games aim to alter or strengthen the relationships between people playing. They help players realise how weak or strong social ties are between them and aim to transform weak or fragile ties into strong and maintained social relationships.


Provides permission

Social games put aside hierarchies, roles and identities. Fictional gameplay and abstraction can open spaces and provide permission for people to say and do things they normally wouldn’t in real world environments.


Challenges perspectives

By abstracting everyday scenarios into gameplay, players can detach from their own roles and step into the world of others. This builds empathy and helps people understand perspectives different to their own.


Shifts mindsets

Games can encourage players to experience and therefore understand different viewpoints. This creates opportunity for bias, negative imaginations and entrenched mindsets to be challenged.


Lasting impact

Social games are designed to extend the positive benefits of playful participation beyond gameplay and into the real world.

How we apply this to our work


  1. Markusson, T. & Knutz, E. (2017). Playful Participation in Social Games. Conjunctions: Transdicsiplinary Journal of Cultural Participation, Vol. 4, No. 1.

  2. Flanagan, M. (2009). Critical Play: Radical Game Design. MIT Press.

  3. Barak, A. (1987). Increasing the Level of Empathic Understanding by Means of a Game. Simulation and Games, 18(4), 458–70.

  4. Macklin, C. & Sharp, J. (2016). Games, Design and Play: A detailed approach to iterative game design. Addison-Wesley Professional.

  5. Huizinga, J. (1938). Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture. Routledge.

  6. Mariani, I. & Gandolfi, E. (2014). The game as social activator, between Design and Sociology: a multidisciplinary framework to analyse and improve the ludic experiences and their social impact.