Games for change: a mobile game from Kyrgyzstan is helping to break gender stereotypes
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan − Erkinai is a young girl studying to be a tailor in a vocational school. She lives in a small mountain village near Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Everyone around her hints that it is time to think about marriage, but she dreams of a great career as an actress. One day, on the shore of Sary Kol, a lake near her village, she meets a mysterious woman in black.
This is how the game 'Mystery of Sary Kol' begins.
After this, players are invited to make decisions for Erkinai, and her fate depends on these decisions.
“When starting this project, we wanted to give girls the opportunity to dream, make decisions and feel independent,” says Munara Beknazarova, who had the idea for the game.
Ms. Beknazarova runs Open Line Public Foundation, which works to prevent domestic violence and protect the rights of girls.
The Foundation developed the 'Mystery of Sary Kol' to help girls learn about and protect their rights. The game was developed with financial support from UNICEF in Kyrgyzstan as part of the global Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls. It is a United Nations initiative in partnership with the European Union and other partners.
In two years, the mobile game has been downloaded more than 40,000 times.
After its launch, the Open Line Public Foundation conducted a survey among its users. It showed that those who played the game felt significantly more strongly that child marriage is a crime and were more willing to help those who are forced into marriage.
The game also made the girls much more confident that they could, through dialogue, convince their parents to abandon the practice of forced marriage.
“We were happy to hear from users that they were able to help all the characters in the game successfully go through the challenges and feel the change,” Ms. Beknazarova said.
According to her, the game’s reach is dozens of times greater than traditional lectures and meetings. Moreover, it is important to mix traditional teaching methods with interactivity. Games, through immersion and engagement with the characters, can achieve more effective results.
In July 2023, the game made it to the world’s largest annual 'Games for Change' festival, which celebrates games that promote positive social change.
Moreover, it was a finalist in the Best Civics Game category. More than 340 games and apps from around the world were entered in this category.
Ms. Beknazarova recalls that while researching mobile game development, she came across the Games for Change website. There was an entire section with a catalogue of digital and non-digital games addressing social issues.
“I was really inspired by the vision that Games for Change pursue. And there I was, years later, attending this festival in New York and presenting our game from Kyrgyzstan there!” Munara proudly notes.
The game’s power
“Games can and should be more than just fun. They should also have meaning. Today we are raising new players who are changing and moving towards positive change through games,” says Ms. Beknazarova.
With its educational component, the 'Mystery of Sary Kol' also breaks the stereotype of girls who play mobile games. Thanks to games like this one, girls not only develop themselves but gain the confidence to challenge gendered stereotypes and attitudes.
This is not Ms. Beknazarova’s first successful work. Earlier, she launched the game “Spring in Bishkek”, which was downloaded more than 150,000 times.
'Mystery of Sary Kol' was created by the Open Line Public Foundation with the participation of an international team of developers and with the support of UNICEF in Kyrgyzstan as part of Spotlight Initiative. The global Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls is a United Nations initiative in partnership with the European Union and other partners. The game can be downloaded from Google Play Market and the App Store.