Online Games as Development Tools: The World Bank Institute's modern Modernization Project

TitleOnline Games as Development Tools: The World Bank Institute's modern Modernization Project
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Fisher, I. J.
Affiliation (1st Author)University of Oregon
Section or WGPolitical Economy Section
DateWed 26 June
Slot CodePEW2c
Slot Code (Keyword)PEW2c
Time of Session11:00-12:30
Session TitleThe politics and economics of videogames
Submission ID6185

The development of so-called serious computer-based digital games for use as educational tools has become a popular approach to learning and has been the subject of many academic studies. The use of similar online computer games as a platform for international development by organizations such as the World Bank, however, is a relatively new phenomenon that deserves closer scholarly attention. While there has been substantial research on digital games and gamers from a cultural studies framework, there is relatively little work to-date conducted from a political economy perspective. By exploring the processes of production and distribution of the World Bank Institute’s online development game “Urgent EVOKE,” which targets African youth as its goal demographic, this paper considers how a game that uses Internet access and social network creation to develop “21st-century skills” both fits into and moves beyond traditional neo-liberal and modernization narratives of development. Therein, this paper considers the potential of digital games created as development tools to be used as “games of empire” in an evolving system of governance by global capitalism, controlled through a networked power of multinational corporations and international organizations. By analyzing the production and distribution strategies, the goals of the game, and the post-game reports, this paper argues for an understanding of “Urgent EVOKE” as a new tool for carrying out traditional neoliberal, market oriented development missions in sub-Saharan Africa. Stated differently, this paper posits that “Urgent EVOKE’s” ideological emphasis on the value of a market economy shows it to be little more than a new channel for the World Bank’s continued emphasis on a neo-liberal approach to development. Furthermore, in light of the fact that the World Bank Institute relied on United States-based game developers rather than on local or regional developers, this paper argues that the organization missed a crucial chance to functionally create business opportunities for local programmers, thereby failing to even follow its own prescriptions for market development.Finally, while the “Urgent EVOKE” website makes visible the game’s stated goal of “empowering people all over the world,” by considering issues of economic, physical, and social barriers to Internet access, this paper argues the game focuses only on those of privileged socioeconomic status within specific regions of sub-Saharan Africa rather than on the truly disadvantaged.

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