The Playful Side of Activism

Addressing social issues in a manner that engages a wide audience can be a daunting task. Invoking interest is difficult, especially when the topic is less than uplifting. But we’re increasingly seeing activists addressing this obstacle by spearheading innovative projects that engage as well as inform audiences on a particular issue, employing a platform we are all familiar with: games.

Nashra Balagamwala is one of those activists. Balagamwala is from Pakistan, and she moved to the United States when she was nineteen to attended the Rhode Island School of Design. Upon returning to Pakistan, she felt dismayed to find that the arranged marriage culture remained an accepted tradition. “Basically, the expectation is that by the time you’re approximately 20, you’ll be a housewife, you’ll have children,” she told Fast Company. “There’s no such idea of going to college or finding your own man to marry. I was always extremely baffled by that.”

“Arranged” the game

Balagamwala turned this emotion into activism by creating the game Arranged.” The game puts each player in the shoes of a young Pakistani woman trying to avoid an arranged marriage. A player wins the game once they reach the point when they can “marry for love,” all while trying to escape their matchmaker. Along the way, the player pulls cards which will draw their matchmaker closer or push them further away. For example, if you wear a sleeveless shirt in public, your matchmaker will move five spaces away.

“Generally I’m a pretty playful person…so I decided to mask the seriousness of the topic by making it into a lighthearted board game”, Balagamwala explains. And so far it’s been an effective strategy. The game has not only acquainted Americans with a largely unfamiliar Pakistani custom, it has also introduced ways for young Pakistani woman to take control of their future.

Then, there’s Finding Her, an ad campaign created by IC4 Design in partnership with UN Women Egypt. The illustrations play on the popular picture game Where’s Waldo, although in this version the player is trying to spot the women in a sea of male workers. “Even though the percentage of women in the workforce is so low, the issue still goes largely unnoticed,” Firas Medrows, executive creative director of DDB Dubai, told Dezeen. “By creating, these elaborate ads that you really spend time looking at, we wanted to raise awareness for the cause.”

“Finding her”

The level of focus it takes to find the female workers in the illustrations is surprising, but this speaks to the success of the campaign. The intrigue of the picture is what draws the viewer in, but it is the shocking reality of the statistics that keeps them engaged.

Arranged and Finding Her have tapped into audiences that may have otherwise been inaccessible by utilizing a platform that is familiar to a wide audience. Through their use of recognizable imagery, they are forging a path to more accessible social issues discussions.  

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