Well, it turns out that it is – sort of. Poverty isn’t of course. Nearly 84 million people in the EU experience poverty, including 8 per cent of the working population as Pamela Geohegan of the European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN), one of the session’s presenters pointed is. But PING is. It is a so-called serious game devised as part of the European Year to combat poverty and social exclusion to show young people the effects of those two things. It’s a joint initiative sponsored by a number of organisations, among them the King Baudouin Foundation, NEF, the Gulbenkian Foundation, Robert Bosch Stiftung and the European Anti Poverty Network.
What is a serious game? According to Jan van Looy of Ghent University, who helped design PING, it’s a game whose primary goal is instruction rather than entertainment (think flight simulators). One of the focuses of the Year is on young people and in order to overcome the resistance they sometimes have to didactic presentations of ideas, PING aims to help them to understand poverty and social exclusion in a way that they will immediately grasp – through an interactive computer game that is fun as well as instructive. Games, suggested van Looy, have great educational potential – you like to play, so you learn in order to play better. And young people like them- 80 per cent of western European teenagers apparently play games, they have growing cultural clout and are ‘cool’ (young people ‘get’ them in a way their parents don’t). In the game, players play the role of teenager who experience misfortune. They make choices and experience the frustration of grappling with social and bureaucratic obstacles. So far, it has tested positively on over 400 children from European schools.
The last part of this afternoon’s session comprised representatives from the King Baudouin Foundation talking about the launch of the tool and issuing a welcome for other foundations to help come in and support what is an interesting and innovative approach to spreading understanding of a problem that stubbornly refuses to go away.
I have written this in reverse of the order it actually happened, because what I have so far described took place in the last half of the 90 minute session. The first half of the session was taken up by Pamela Geohegan of EAPN talking about EAPN’s work and the background to the European Year and Elodie Fazi of the European Commission giving the EC’s perspective on the same thing. This was a pity, I felt. Not that these weren’t interesting, but I found it frustrating not to have the key element of the session explained right away, as I’ve tried to do here.