How MTV and Digital Games Like Angry Birds Help Kids Learn to Draw the Line on Cyberbullying
4.11.12 | It is essential to teach digital literacies, including cyber citizenship in school; however, few schools do, and so much of children’s experience with digital media is gained outside the classroom – which is why it’s so exciting to see MTV team up with the widely popular game “Angry Birds” to raise awareness about cyberbullying.
Anyone who has downloaded the most recent version, “Angry Birds Space,” may have seen this brief clip picturing the birds standing up against bullying followed by the brief message, “Stand up and stop digital drama.” The partnership is a new facet of MTV’s A Thin Line campaign that aims to help kids understand the difference between digital use and abuse.
MTV’s vice president of public affairs, Jason Rzepka, explained the reasoning behind the new initiative in an interview with Games for Change:
The impetus for this partnership was us recognizing that people spend 300 million minutes a day playing Angry Birds. When we saw that really astounding statistic, we felt that there had to be an opportunity to use the Angry Birds for good. We wanted to find a way to connect with the passionate fans of this game – many of which are young people — and to translate their interest in Angry Birds to addressing challenges our audience faces. We felt there was an opportunity to have fun while doing good.
The new game encourages users to go online and post the ways they are taking action to stop digital abuses, such as sexting, text harassment, and cyberbullying, and offers resources to help kids “draw their line” between whats is – and is not – appropriate behavior. Users who post their actions are given access to a secret Golden Egg level of “Angry Birds Space,” which is an enticing offer for gaming experts.
The campaign’s website also provides easy steps for kids to take against cyberbullying, including standing up for someone who is being victimized, communicating with trusted adults who can intervene, and spreading the word that digital abuse isn’t cool on Facebook and other social media platforms.
Social impact gaming has been gaining national attention thanks to organizations like Games for Change, which holds an annual festival that brings funders, government agencies, educators, and leading game developers together in order to create new games that encourage players to get involved with the world around them.
In a recent interview, Games for Change Co-President Asi Burak said the interactive aspect of games helps to translate the activism they’re encouraging into impactful real-world decisions.
“The idea that kids can make choices and that those choices have consequences for a whole set of actions gets to the heart of social impact. Kids playing games understand cause and effect, and they understand how the system works,” said Burak. “In addition—and this is important for social change—games can get them to do something in the real world. You’re one click away from doing something—from volunteering, signing a newsletter, or even giving money.”
Rzepka stressed the importance of reaching youth by utilizing their social footprint. “The reality is that young people today live their lives online and on digital platforms,” he said. “Those platforms represent powerful avenues for us to connect with our audience, inform them, amplify their voices and empower them.”
Games like “Angry Birds,” which are played by millions worldwide via smartphones, computers and various gaming consoles, can reach young people with social messages in ways many educators and peers cannot. The collective reach between Rovio, the creators behind the game, and MTV is massive, and may inspire other companies to seek similar alliances in the future.
Plus, If you’re an educator looking to teach cyber citizenship in your classroom, you should check out Common Sense Media’s toolkit on cyberbullying. The kit is part of a comprehensive digital literacy and citizenship initiative Commonsense Media launched last year. It’s available at no cost to K-12 educators.
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