On April 7, 2021, the U.S. Department of State announced a surprising new initiative, the launch of a video game development exchange program for young people from four countries. Students in the United States, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will have the opportunity to participate in a ten week video game diplomacy program called the Game Exchange, a virtual student exchange program where participants will learn to develop games with a social impact.

The program is made possible through a partnership between Games for Change, a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded in 2004, “that empowers game creators and social innovators to drive real-world impact through games and immersive media” and the State Department’s sponsorship of the Stevens Initiative, named for late U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, which is a public-private partnership also funded by the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the Bezos Family Foundation.

The initiative will bring together students from around the world in an attempt to tackle various problems using the universal medium of video games. The program will consist of 2,700 students, ages 6-12, with a shared interest in the space. Students will form teams and work on interactive projects which must focus on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals such as health, education, discrimination, hunger, climate change, clean water, forest conservation and poverty. The first round of the program will include students from underrepresented communities and be led by teachers trained by Games for Change. The students’ mentors will consist of video game industry executives and esteemed professors. At the conclusion of the program, the students will have the opportunity to continue to participate as mentors for incoming classes and are invited to the program’s private Discord channel to stay in touch.

The results of the program are meant to be threefold: 1) bridge cultural gaps across the four participating nations; 2) educate students in game development; and 3) use video games as a means to generate a more sustainable future.