Game Research Special Interest Group: Games and VR for Inclusion

Understanding how games and VR may contribute to inclusion

Motivation and impact

The shared goal of Games and VR for inclusion is to explore to what extent playful media formats can make a difference in furthering socio-cultural, political and/or economic inclusion of migrants. Inclusion here ranges from broad utopian ideals such as promoting planetary solidarity or furthering encounters and intercultural dialogue on  an individual or community level. They encompass initiatives that contribute to inclusion: diversifying discourse on migration; furthering the settlement, participation and integration of migrants/refugees in host societies, and those that seek to establish new connections between host communities through forms of digital mediation.

In the last few years, a growing number of games, digital storytelling initiatives and VR installations have encouraged support, sympathy, and action for a variety of migration and refugee issues: providing refugee children with game-based education (Project Hope), allowing marginalized groups to build games and assert their voice (accessible game development toolkit), exploring innovative ways to get refugees acquainted with their new urban habitats (Refugee Selfie Treasure Hunt), investigating the causes and effects of migrant deaths along the Arizona-Mexican border (The Migrant Trail, Torn Apart/Seperados) and refugees dying in the Mediterranean en route to Europe (The Migrant Files), raising awareness about the complexity and risks of the refugee experience (Against All Odds; BBC Media Action’s Your Phone is now a Refugee’s Phone), critiquing ever-increasing rules and paperwork for immigrants (Papers, Please), and providing immersive virtual-reality and role-playing accounts of the horrors faced by immigrants and refugees (UNHCRs’ Clouds over Sidra, BBC’s Syrian Journey, A Breathtaking Journey, Carne y Arena, A Day in the Life of a Refugee; IND’s Asielprocedure in 3d). In addition, comics and graphic novels such as Tings Chak’s Undocumented graphic novel questioning the architecture of migrant detention; Threads: From the Refugee Crisis by Kate Evans providing an eyewitness account of the Calais refugee camp in France or Baddawi by Leila Abdelazaq covering the coming-of-age of a young Palestinian in a Northern-Lebanon refugee camp and PositiveNegative’s A Perilious Journey documenting Syrian refugee’ testimonies in Scandinavia show how both digital and analogue forms of storytelling combine playful techniques in questioning and expanding migrant narratives.

Refugee and migrant games/VR counter the dominant white, middle-class, masculine and conquest/colonial focus of dominant game production and gaming culture, and offer an opportunity to question and rethink dominant game culture. Playful approaches are also observable in recent post-disaster recovery initiatives (through crowd-sourcing help) as well as digital humanitarianism initiatives: the recent so-called European refugee crisis has resulted in a proliferation of apps targeting refugees. Some estimate 1500+ apps aimed at for example information exchange, language learning and bridging cultural barriers, have been developed during hackathon initiatives (such as TechFugees) that brought together corporate world (social media platforms, mobile telephony providers), NGO’s, activists, hackers and humanitarian actors. They are also evident in the plethora of coding and IT entrepreneurial initiatives developed to promote refugee inclusion through the digital.


  • Organizing an international academic conference on games and VR for inclusion. We will focus on migration, refugees, humanitarianism and the politics of integration.
  • Organizing an expert-meeting where we seek to facilitate dialogue between academics and  practitioners working on this domain.
  • The SIG aims to compile a joint Open Access publication.
  • Compiling an overview reference of games, digital storytelling and VR initiatives dealing with migration. There are several partly overlapping lists and taxonomies available online, which we will summarize and reference.
  • Creating a professional learning community through regular meetings where SIG members present their research, exchange of ideas.
  • Organizing an international lecture series.
    The first speaker in the series will be Alison Harvey (University of Leicester) who will give a lecture on February 25 and masterclass on February 26 drawing on her extensive experience in making games with marginalized communities including refugees. The lecture and masterclass are jointly organized with the Netherlands Research School of Gender Studies (NOG).

We will address the following underlying research questions:

  • How can marginalized groups counter stereotypical representations and assert their own voice and identity through co-creating games and/or creative coding?
  • What is the potential of playful media literacy for inclusion and intercultural dialogue?
  • What intersectional power relations shape game production and (online) game culture? How do refugee/migrant games counter dominant configurations of race/class/gender/sexuality/nationality/age/generation in game production and gaming culture?
  • Hackathons are exemplary for new forms of digital humanitarianism. What is the impact of resilience and self-reliance oriented coding and IT entrepreneurial initiatives in promoting refugee inclusion?
  • What is the role of games and play in humanitarian innovation through digital storytelling?
  • What is the emphatic potential of Virtual Reality to offer non-stereotypical, personal and affective narrative journalism and humanitarian communication?

Team members

  • Albert Salah; Faculty of Science.
  • Rianne Dekker, Veronika Nagy; Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance.
  • Rense Corten, Martijn Oosterbaan; Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences.
  • Sandra Ponzanesi, Koen Leurs, Sanne Sprenger, Joost Raessens; Faculty of Humanities.


  • Minor gender studies: ‘Politics of representation’, ‘Visuality & technology’.
  • Minor postcolonial studies: ‘Postcolonial configurations’.
  • PCI (Postcolonial Studies Initiative) film screenings, lectures and other activities.

This special interest group builds on collaborations with the focus area Governing the digital society (special interest group Digital Migration) and the focus area Migration and Societal Change.