Finding a place in which to recognise ourselves implies, in some way, empathising with the Other, which can occur both in the cultural and social spheres and, specifically, in the common problems that all Mediterranean peoples have experienced throughout their history. In this article we will address contemporary human movement and the way in which some projects, through an intercultural prism and in the form of technological tools, have aimed to reduce the impact of the difficulties related to the movement of people around our shared sea. In addition, we will pay special attention to a relatively new concept of serious game for smartphones and tablets.
In the times in which we live, movements of people in the Mediterranean are one of the aspects that have most impact on our societies, an impact that only increases with time. These migratory movements often produce undesirable effects in host societies, the result of ignorance of the culture of the Other. The fear generated by such ignorance is often communicated in the media and, therefore, transferred to public opinion, and ends up absorbing much of the macro policies of the countries.
There are many factors that lead migrants to leave their places of origin to seek refuge or a better future elsewhere, not only in the northern Mediterranean but beyond the countries bordering our sea. Wars in nearby countries, few resources and opportunities or lack of freedom are some of the factors that make these people decide to move, often within their own country, to end up leaving it and seeking real prospects for wellbeing in their lives.
People who have worked in the social field over the last twenty years in Andalusia have a clear perception of the basic needs of migrants, as well as a clear image of the only tool with which these people arrive to try to achieve their goals: the mobile phone. Therefore, helping them and facilitating technological tools to provide genuine information and solutions to their problems, as well as information to the host society about why migrants really flee their countries of origin, creates a good synergy that favours a more just, egalitarian and intercultural society.
According to the professor at Pompeu Fabra University Ricard Zapata, “we accept globalisation but not its consequences,” and our era is clearly different from others in two ways: mobility and connectivity, as shown by the Covid-19 epidemic. Thus, from a clearly intercultural perspective that does not seek acculturation or assimilation of the Other but can create a positive relationship between migrant human groups and their hosts, we believe that there are a series of remarkable projects based on new technologies that clearly promote better mutual understanding and provide interesting solutions and, above all, propose different paths for common problems.
For all these reasons, we will next introduce a set of tools in the form of apps for mobile devices that seek to offer some help for people who have been forced to move around the Mediterranean, as well as how to mitigate the impact of this displacement by raising greater awareness in the host society. These apps are indeed useful to face the different communication, awareness and online learning challenges that characterise human movements throughout the Mediterranean. Thus, we will identify some that we believe are very useful for social work related to migration and international cooperation. Nevertheless, it should be noted that there are many others equally valid that, for reasons of space, we cannot mention here.
The Serious Game Concept
The term serious game was coined by Mike Zyda, who defines it as “a mental contest, played with a computer in accordance with specific rules, that uses entertainment to further government or corporate training, education, health, public policy, and strategic communication objectives.” So the expression refers to games that are for leisure but go a little further and address more serious educational issues, thereby pursuing learning or the raising of awareness in the process.
Our era is clearly different from others in two ways: mobility and connectivity, as shown by the Covid-19 epidemic
Therefore, these games offer not only entertainment as a traditional value of the video game but also the involvement of the player in the endeavour. It is an old concept but has been advancing and developing according to the nature of human concerns and is currently reflected in tools related to new technologies.
There are many serious game expressions developed for different platforms such as PS4 or even directly through computer programs for PC with an objective related to the movement of people in the Mediterranean. However, in this article we only mention games available through apps that can be downloaded to mobile phones. Nevertheless, it is worth first highlighting the case of the rudimentary game Rescate en el Mediterráneo (Rescue in the Mediterranean), launched by the organisation Save the Children, which makes the player a captain on board the Vos Hestia rescuing migrants in the central Mediterranean. In this way, anyone can appreciate the difficulties of this task, while acquiring some understanding of migrations today.
As we said, we will focus on those apps that we can download from familiar platforms like Android, Play Store or Apple iOS. We have selected six for this article:
Antura wa aljuruf (Antura and the Letters)
This first app is one of our favourites, and we think it has the most interesting interface. This app is specifically designed for Syrian boys and girls who, due to the armed conflict in their country, cannot go to school regularly. The tool was created with the idea of offering educational assistance to all those children who are currently in refugee camps in Mediterranean countries or in other places with no possibility of schooling.
The app is not intended to follow the Syrian government’s school curriculum but instead focuses on trying to keep children literate in their native language or at least standard Arabic for the duration of the conflict. Over time, however, it has been seen that the tool can have numerous and different applications for which it was not originally specifically designed. Thus, it is ideal for the literacy of unaccompanied migrant children, as well as for those who leave the system of protection. Another group that can also benefit from Antura wa aljuruf are temporary workers, who in their leisure time can easily improve their literacy with this app.
The game can also be useful for people who want to begin learning Arabic, although the app is entirely developed in this language, so the instructions are sometimes not very intuitive for those who do not have a minimum prior knowledge. The app is developed by the company Video Games Without Borders, and the project headed by Francesco Cavallari has won numerous awards all over the world and also has its own website.
We strongly recommend this app, in which the friendly dog Antura guides us in learning, achieving from a pedagogical and thematic point of view the objectives in a practical way while ensuring its playability, one of the maxims of any game. The app, moreover, pursues a very clear intercultural objective: that people should not lose their culture of origin and be able to overcome processes such as supraassimilation or uprooting. We also believe that it provides another intercultural objective, perhaps to a lesser extent: promoting cultural diversity within the framework of the discovery of the cultural values of others for children.
Layla and the Shadows
This app is a truly grim game that aims to make users aware of the number of minors who live through wars, not only as victims in a given territory but also as individuals who undergo displacement and asylum in other countries. The game stems from a malicious and execrable event that occurred in 2014, when Palestinian children were killed by the Israeli army on a beach because they were seemingly mistaken for terrorists. The app places players in an environment full of difficulties typical of lives immersed in warfare, where they have to run to avoid losing their own life or where, at some stage, they can even escape with their daughter.
This game, which has received numerous awards, is a wonderful free tool to help children to empathise with the difficulties of other minors, who could very well end up being their class or neighbourhood mates, and also become familiar with conflicts currently ravaging the Mediterranean. The objective of the game, as we see, is for host societies to empathise with other realities and with the migratory processes of people, thus helping to create a space of mutual understanding.
Bury Me, My Love – Nour´s Choice
This serious game is an app that puts the player in the skin of one half of a couple against the background of the Syrian war. They communicate through a social messaging network and events take place until they are both displaced from their country and end up in a refugee camp. This wonderful app helps us empathise with the people who are confined there and teaches us about the difficulties that many people who currently live in camps such as Moria (Greece) experience in a deplorable and unhealthy situation.
We can acquire information and become aware of the Syrian reality, which can be extrapolated to other conflicts, and see that nobody leaves their home for pleasure
Conceived by the INK company, the app is endorsed by the French television channel Arte and, although it is not free, we can test its prologue on any computer to see how, very effectively, it puts us in the shoes of a married couple immersed in a current conflict. In this way, we can acquire information and become aware of the Syrian reality, which can be extrapolated to other conflicts, and see that nobody leaves their home for pleasure. Moreover, the game has great added appeal: it has nineteen different endings, making it highly interactive, engaging and unpredictable.
The app pursues the same intercultural objective as in the previous case but is targeted more at young people and adults. On the other hand, it actively fights against stereotyped views and the consequent discrimination that derives from them through an idea: what happens to the protagonists of the game could happen to any of us, and we could all react in the same way they do.
This app is a serious game created out of a digital literacy workshop organised by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations in the cities of Algeciras and Tangier in 2017, and where a group of young refugees and migrant children were working on their digital literacy and computing skills. After the workshop, which was attended by people of eight different nationalities speaking five different languages, the idea arose to continue working with this group of youths to develop some of the projects outlined as an app.
Survival Algeciras, a game where the user becomes a young migrant and must negotiate many difficulties before being able to overcome all his or her fears, represented in the final monster, Aixa Kandisha, a Maghrebi mythological being
The participants, guided by their monitors and, in a final phase, by the app and video game professionals from the company OmniumLab decided to develop a serious game. The result was Survival Algeciras, a game where the user becomes a young migrant and must negotiate many difficulties before being able to overcome all his or her fears, represented in the final monster, Aixa Kandisha, a Maghrebi mythological being. This app has two very clear intercultural objectives: on the one hand, to raise the awareness of European minors and young people about the difficulties that many of their peers at school and in their neighbourhood have had to deal with before arriving in Europe, using strategies that overcome fear and strengthen empathy so that the Other becomes part of our circle; on the other, to empower those potential young African migrants, minors or adults, before beginning this journey to learn, through play, about the difficulties they will face.
We do not want to close this article without mentioning two other apps that, although not designed purely for leisure, can be very useful in social work focusing on the movements of people in the Mediterranean from the intercultural perspective that we have been discussing:
Icoon For Refugees
This app is not exactly a serious game but we had to mention it in this article. Icoon for Refugees is a very simple app but, as often happens, simple things are the most difficult. Its objective is to resolve communication problems using a kind of dictionary of pictures of actions that are most difficult to express. These icons also help people understand the most important actions for any migrant or refugee beyond their mother tongue or linguistic skill. It is a basic support for newcomers in unfamiliar territories.
The project was carried out by the German Red Cross and has a beautiful story behind it: it was designed as a book for tourists in 2007, but in 2017 many humanitarian organisations asked for it to be transformed into a free app for people arriving in Germany. Thus it became a very useful tool for the entire country. The semantic fields found in it include clothing, hygiene, health, food and transport, and it has over 200 symbols and photographs that help break through language barriers.
Its most notable objective from the intercultural point of view is that it provides a strategy that can bring about the fall of “communication barriers” and provides an excuse to delve more deeply into the Other, and the accompanying cultural values, beyond words.
This app is also not a serious game but is very helpful for those who have experienced discrimination, racism or xenophobia. It is a very simple tool that helps people to not feel alone and be aware that they are in a society governed by the rule of law. It is very common to see this type of occurrence on social networks, whether reported to the authorities or not, and through this app they can be compiled and then influence events in a more political way.
This tool, developed by Red Acoge, has a very simple interface and two fundamental objectives: first, to highlight all episodes of a xenophobic nature and, second, to provide victims with a source of legal advice, if they request it. The app addresses, in a clear and essential way, the basic principle of interculturality of building tools based on equal opportunities between men and women.
We hope that this brief article can assist all the people who, in some way, are trying to help all those who move through the Mediterranean with great difficulties, as well as professional workers who try to offer them some kind of wellbeing in this difficult situation by improving their tools of social inclusion.