An Evaluation of Games for Advocacy: Cops and Rubbers


Serious games have signifcant potential to impact health beliefs and attitudes, because players can test out new ideologies within a game, without the high risk associated with doing so in a real-world scenario. As a result of a dearth in evidence that addresses the potential of games for advocacy in health and human rights, humanitarian organizations may be hesitant to use and promote games as advocacy tools. This study aims to contribute qualitative evidence of games as a viable communication platform for advocacy in health and human rights. To do this, the research team used one game (Cops and Rubbers) about one human rights and health issue (the condoms as evidence practice) and one target audience (human rights advocates in Cape Town, South Africa) to illustrate the potential of games in this sphere.

In countries around the world — including South Africa — police carry out legal and illegal searches of sex workers and con scate or destroy condoms found in their possession. Cops and Rubbers is both a game and an interactive demonstration of this international policing practice. 56 human rights advocates in South Africa participated in the focus groups, which were designed utilizing control and treatment groups. The control groups received Open Society Foundations (OSF)’s Criminalizing Condoms report, which represents a standard method of advocacy, while the treatment group received the Cops and Rubbers game, which was meant to represent a creative, non-traditional tool of advocacy. Researchers used a constant comparison analytical method to develop emergent themes from the transcribed audio recording of each focus group.

In assessing perception of games as creative tools for advocacy, participants shared their thoughts on standard methods of advocacy for their given context. These included: community-based outreach (workshops, spaces and clubs), public demonstrations and protests, media, collaboration and referencing, helplines, theater, and games. In evaluating Cops and Rubbers as a creative advocacy tool, the game emerged as particularly useful in breaking barriers related to stigma and discrimination. Multiple participants in the focus groups felt that the game would be most bene cial in impacting those who have little to no experience or no understanding of the challenges of sex workers. Although quantitative findings between the report and the game groups comparing game versus report experience were largely ambiguous, participants were generally more expressive in describing emotions elicited by the game. They expressed a range of emotions after playing, including: sympathy, empathy, awkwardness, hope, sadness, disappointment, and frustration.

General recommendations moving forward include tailoring the game (translation to different languages) and using the game to complement other standard advocacy methods. In addition, an important next step would be to further test the game directly with those it is designed to reach: policy makers.

Although standard advocacy tools remain useful for their potential benefits, this evaluation pointed to games as having more potential in changing perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs of persons who were not previously familiar with the topic being advocated.