Show your teenagers the big picture with UNODC’s unique comics and games

06 April 2020 – When Belen and her brother Tiago excitedly unwrapped the fancy drone they had ordered, they never imagined they were about to learn that life in the beautiful island of San Servolo was not quite what it seemed. A cry for help, hidden in the packaging, would set them on a brave quest to understand and confront the ravages of human trafficking and migrant smuggling affecting their society, unbeknownst to anyone. They decide to take matters into their own hands, setting in motion a sequence of events that would change life as they knew it in a country which believed it had already eradicated crime.

So begins the immensely engaging comic book series San Servolo, enticing teenagers around the world to think about big issues they had never considered before, and to reassess their understanding of – and their role in – just and peaceful societies. It is one of numerous edutainment tools produced in several languages by the experts of the Education for Justice initiative (E4J, a component of UNODC’s Global Programme for the Implementation of the Doha Declaration), giving secondary students the knowledge and the incentive to help shape their own future.

With most schools having turned to online home learning as the global struggle against the spread of COVID-19 continues, teachers and parents alike have been seeking innovative ways to keep restless teenagers occupied and interested as their education progresses. In this new digital environment, asking these youngsters to read a comic like San Servolo is an excellent way to engage them and to trigger their imagination with fundamental questions which beg asking, and answering.

To begin with, what would they do if they were to find themselves in Belen and Tiago’s situation? Why are certain crimes so detrimental to the peace and the stability of society at large? What does it take for justice to reign supreme? How do issues like dubious integrity, transparency and responsibility affect law-abiding citizens? Why is the observance of rule of law so important to the wellbeing of our societies, and what can everyone do to promote it? In the wide realm of rule of law matters, to which the Global Programme is dedicated, questions such as these tend to engender others in inquisitive young minds.

E4J’s secondary educational tools were developed to generate questions and to provide answers which many teenagers didn’t even know they were seeking, teaching them about great existential values while they play. Whether with comic books, board games or online games (all available for free download), there are many ways to involve teens, and even to include the participation of the whole family in this quest for meaningful interaction.

For example, unlike many board games in which players are set against one another, Cyberstrike can only be won through cohesive team work, as players collaborate to prevent successive cyber-attacks. Similarly, in the game Running Out of Time, players embodying different social agents must work as a team to beat criminals and attain the cards which will help them be victorious. Teams also have to pull together in Purposyum, a game where players in tri-planetary teams must develop civilization on a cosmic scale; standing in their way are phenomena such as violent extremism, genocide, large-scale mis- and dis-information in all walks of life, weapons and global warming – all threatening humanity and its evolution in the cosmos.

The game Labyrinth, in contrast, challenges individual players to achieve hero status as they make their way through a maze, making the right decisions and choosing the correct paths through the hands they are dealt, whatever those may be; even though luck plays a role, their progress and eventual success is determined by the choices they make.

When the kids, inevitably, want to get back online to the apps that make the teen world go round, E4J’s entertaining short animated videos will catch their attention, with original scenarios designed to explain complex global issues and to trigger reflection on how this affects their lives. There is also an added element of cognitive dissonance and of discovery – of moral values, that is – when E4J’s distinctive online games are tackled, with teens having to make careful decisions to rebuild planet Zorb in the game Zorbs Reloaded (currently available for Android), among others.

With such a varied portfolio of tools, teachers and parents will find much to inspire the teenagers under their care, especially during these unprecedented times when schooling has adopted a new format. As they are introduced to this diverse array of comics and games, they will be learning valuable lessons on the importance of justice and rule of law – without even realizing it.

Additional Information
Education for Justice Secondary Level