Games with a Heart

Colin de Bruijn, MetaMeta

Over the past few months the Games with a Heart (GWH) initiative of MetaMeta has taken several steps forward towards the modernization and expansion of knowledge necessary to continue to improve– from sorting the physical games stored at MetaMeta’s Dutch office, to writing reviews on the various suitable games produced both by and with MetaMeta, to the active reading and reviewing of (development) game-related scientific articles and the creation of a new outline for the upcoming GWH website.

The first projects that were concluded were a combination of GWH games and board games literature review. Having a sizeable database of games both created within and outside of MetaMeta can help provide inspiration for new creations and means to compare with other works. Likewise, the literature review provided valuable means to inform both the organization on the pros and cons of utilizing game-centered education and ensure we do not step into the pitfalls described in the literature. Both lists can provide information to both the MetaMeta team and its partners on what aspects of a new Game with a Heart to focus on.

Continuing from the review, a collection listing organizations similar in goal and purpose to MetaMeta was formed, utilizing both prior knowledge and online digwork. Connecting with companies similar to MetaMeta can provide opportunities to share ideas, learn and cooperate on projects, just as was done in 2018 during the ‘Source to Tap and Back’ project by VEI, LeAF and MetaMeta in Ethiopia. It was interesting to see the sheer variety of groups working on games in the same trend as those created by GWH– from international organizations like UNICEF, WaterAid and Project WET to local-oriented groups such as WASH For India and CAWST Wavemakers. A large number of these groups are creating a part, if not all, of their games in the digital sphere, to allow them to more easily reach a larger audience. Although physical games are currently more suitable for the projects and organizations MetaMeta is working with, expanding into digital games (with a heart) could be a useful next step. For all these organizations suitable contact information was unearthed, to be used in the future to connect MetaMeta with them.

Next, the work focused on the refreshment of GWH’s catalogue as several newer titles were not included in the old version of the catalogue, and the catalogue itself was in need of a revamped look. Updating the contents and modernizing the look of the document proved to be quite a task. The collection of games back at MetaMeta’s main office in Wageningen was searched through to create a better idea of which games were to be kept in the catalogue before work began. New sections were created for the new titles and old ones removed or added upon with new explanatory segments. The revised version of the catalogue will be released in the near future, so stay tuned.

At the same time, it was decided that the GWH webpage needed to be updated to fit the new catalogue that was being developed. With the changes made to the catalogue in hand, a suitable layout for the information that had been gathered was created. The new Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) games introduced over the past years were put front and center, yet the ‘old guard’ of the games produced by MetaMeta (such as Animal Dice and Go, Buffalo) were not forgotten. The WaSH Quartet in particular, being the game utilized most often during MetaMeta’s various projects abroad over the past four years, was highlighted here, followed by games such as Fly Over, WASH Code Cards and the WASH Mazes. The website needed to be both inviting to prospecting partners as well as returning fans, and so an effort was made to focus on the aspects of GWH that truly shine: the interactivity of the games, the evaluation and feedback cycle as well as the educational aspects of each game. We’ve added pages that highlight each of these aspects and more.

After a long time of preparations and discussions, the aspects of the website have been written and implemented. We are happy to announce that the first version of our new website for GWH is online as of this moment – you can visit us at

Finally, the first steps were made for the creation of a game for the ongoing TMT+ Yemen project for the Sana’a Water company. Albeit still in an exploratory state, plans are being made for two games to work in tandem with one another. One is a card game with cooperative gameplay where statements and questions about their work and the way they cooperate with one another will get people to open up as they share their thoughts on the state of their organization. The other is a puzzle based on Archimedes’ Square, where the participants learn to work together and see that all their respective jobs fit together to make the greater whole of the organization. Although still in a conceptual stage, it is a great goal to strive towards and create a new set of games for the GWH program, adding to the growing repertoire.

Games being played in developing areas have proven to be of great help supporting and sharing knowledge with and between individuals living in such environments. As of now, games are not yet being used to a large extent in the larger developmental sector, even though academic studies on the subject indicate the inarguable positive effect. Finding funding to distribute games as a part of ongoing programs or as new projects is thus difficult. It is one of the key challenges for both MetaMeta and other organizations working on this to continue to share and promote this valuable form of education. The wider development community has not yet accepted these kinds of games as the valid option in their programs and that will only change with more open discussion and a consequent change in mentality. New ideas are often regarded warily at the start before a place can be found for them in the overarching toolkit of developmental support and, in time, I fully believe physical development games will be embraced as an integral instrument.

May 2, 2022  
Produced by