Democracy Games for Democracy Gains: How DemTech uses games for good to support democracy programs

By Jesper Frant | August 30, 2023

Large Photo
Illustration of the four main characters of the Digital Organizing SOS game waving their hands standing in front of a map of the Earth.
A photo from the main page of the Digital Organizing SOS: Stories of Security game shows the leaders of civil society organizations that you, as a digital security trainer, are asked to help as part of the game.

NDI’s Democracy and Technology (DemTech) team has a long history of experimenting with different types of games for good. We have even tried our hand at developing our own gaming platforms with varying levels of success.

For example, the defunct DemGames Debate app was a Drupal-based app intended to reinforce learning through fun practice quizzes. Originally designed to gamify NDI’s youth debates programs, it became evident that there was not sufficient demand to justify the expense of maintaining the platform and it was deprecated. 

DemTech’s more recent efforts to gamify learning have favored the narrative fiction style. Narrative fiction games are online games that use narrative storytelling to guide players through fun fictitious scenarios where they can choose their own adventure. These games are pretty simple to develop, and there are a variety of options of tools that can be used to build them. DemTech has experimented with Google Forms and Powerpoint, but has favored the more broadly-adopted open-source narrative fiction tool called Twine. Besides having a more rich, user-friendly, and flexible game development framework, Twine games are also simple HTML files that can be hosted at almost no cost and there is no need for software patches or updates for the game to live on indefinitely. So far, DemTech has created four Twine games:

  • Alissa for Olania! - ​​In this cybersecurity game, players take on the role of first-time presidential hopeful Alissa Orme’s campaign manager in the fictional country of Olania. They have to boost Alissa’s popularity and raise funds to help her win the election, while preventing cybersecurity incidents from derailing the campaign. (related blog post)
  • Digital Organizing SOS: Stories of Security - You play the role of a cybersecurity trainer to help leaders of civil society organizations more safely and effectively organize virtual workshops, fundraise online, use social media, and collect and store data. 
  • Human Centered Design - In this game, players take on the role of program lead tasked with designing a transparency and communication app. They have to test their knowledge of how to apply the principles of Human Centered Design effectively.
  • Leading Change - In this game, players are a youth leader seeking to boost the voices and needs of young people in a city’s COVID pandemic response. They have to learn about Adaptive Leadership, while exploring how this concept could play out in a realistic scenario.

NDI has also experimented with offline tabletop exercises (TTX). TTX are discussion-based sessions in which players are grouped into teams, assigned roles in a fictitious scenario, and called on to solve a series of challenges. These games give players a sense of what it’s like to work as a team to confront a realistic scenario, like a natural disaster or cybersecurity incident. 

DemTech developed a TTX game called CyberSim that simulates risks for a political party in a campaign environment and helps players assess their readiness and implement better digital security practices. To mirror the chaos of a typical campaign environment, the events of the game are rapid-fire and overwhelming. The immersive experience not only teaches lessons about cybersecurity, but also gives players a better sense of the high-stress and high-stakes environment in which decisions about cybersecurity incidents are often made.

Because the game is so rapid-fire, the pace can make the job of the facilitator difficult. To address this tension between creating a realistic–yet still functional–gameplay environment, DemTech developed an app to help CyberSim facilitators manage events and provide a summary of the actions taken. Crucially, the app enables facilitators to moderate an after-action review – a “post-game” exercise that allows players to reflect on what they learned. While originally designed to be played in person, DemTech recently developed an online version of the TTX that can be played using the Discord app. The team is also actively developing new versions of CyberSim tailored to civil society organizations and parliaments to join the current campaign-focused iteration.

Games for good are an innovative and effective way to educate, empower, and inspire people to take action on issues that matter to them. Whether it is online or offline, narrative fiction or tabletop exercise, games can create immersive and interactive experiences that challenge players to think critically, collaborate with others, and learn from their mistakes. DemTech has experimented with implementing “serious games” in various contexts and regions, with a focus on democracy, governance, and human rights. We invite you to explore our games, share your feedback, and join us in creating more games for good in the future. Together, we can make learning fun and meaningful. If you are interested in learning more about our games for good or playing them yourself, please visit our website or contact us.