IIITH’s Child Trafficking Serious Game Presented and Shortlisted For Best Paper At IEEE Conference on Games 2020

Technological advances have come in handy for promoting awareness about social issues. Students at IIITH demonstrate an immersive and transformative experience with a game on child trafficking which was also shortlisted for the Best Paper Award at the the IEEE Conference on Games (CoG). Read more below.

The chances of learning and retaining a newly acquired piece of knowledge is greater when the learning process is fun and interactive. Strongly believing in this and convinced that gaming is a serious business, Professor of Cognitive Science, Kavita Vemuri helms projects in (Serious) Gaming. In the course titled Game Design and Engineering, students put their heads together and experiment with both hardware and software in a bid to create prototypes of games.

Social Awareness

The Game Design course culminates with projects that are presented during an Open House session. For this year’s showcase, students were given themes based on social evils for which they had to design a complete game. The aim of the projects was to bring about a transformation or learning in the player at the end of the game. Fourth year CSE and CSD students AadilMehdi Sanchawala, Adhithya Arun, and Rahul Sajnani chose human trafficking of children specifically for forced labour and developed a complete narrative around which the game could be played. Titled “Unlocked”, it is a computer simulated game that has been envisioned as an educational tool for promoting awareness about child trafficking.

Invoking Empathy

The game follows a 12-year-old who when only 9 is unwittingly handed over by his own parents to traffickers with the promise of an education and a job. He is instead taken away to work forcibly under unhygienic and atrocious conditions in a glass bangle making factory (one of the most prevalent industries employing child labour) along with similar other children. From plotting his escape and eventually succeeding to flee with a friend, the storyline weaves in complexities such as bonded child labour who are unwilling to leave their bleak circumstances because they think they’re unwanted by their parents and also because they don’t know a better life. Such scenarios help in providing hitherto-unknown perspectives on child trafficking and aid in a transformative learning experience. While other similar games centered on trafficking exist, the students say that what makes their version unique is that it promotes empathy thanks to the real-life complexities woven in. “Most of the (existing) games are very didactic in nature. In reality, there are many social and cultural predicaments that entail the situation itself. By detailing them, it is possible to place ourselves in the victims’ shoes and understand their internal conflicts much better,” say Aadil and Adhithya. During the course of the game, the player assumes the role of the victim and is led through various scenarios. “There are many factors that affect the psyche of the child. To show all these nuances our game includes scenarios where top ranking politicians or the police brass are in cahoots with the trafficker too,” says Rahul. The game concludes with the victim being captured by the traffickers and the player, who now as a bystander has to confront some thought-provoking questions in response to the scene.

Increased Understanding

To evaluate the efficacy of the game, the researchers undertook a pretest and a post test survey. The pretest survey tested the players’ understanding of the current state of child trafficking while in the post test survey, players rated the experience, and effectiveness of the game in educating them about the extent of the problem. They also had the game vetted by an NGO, Prajwala, whose activists acknowledged its potential impact on increasing awareness. The activists from this NGO detailed that the game should include the following messages to the player explicitly explaining that the escape attempts are thwarted because 1) people are earning off you, 2) people are watching you and 3) the enforcment mechanisms may actually not support you. They believed that it was essential through a transformative medium to realise that labour trafficking is modern day slavery and that the slavery aspect is very stark in the case of child labour trafficking as compared to other traffickings with children not being paid, held at the fire pits for hours, kept at a particular weight so they can crouch, and stuffed into small rooms to fit in as many as possible.

Course Work To Research Paper

Speaking about the project, Kavita says, “It’s very rare to see course work being submitted and accepted for conferences; it shows a high level of commitment from the students. Importantly, we hope to work further on this trafficking game and transfer it for learning purposes to NGOs”.

She hopes that as an institute with a core in Computer Science and Electronics but equally strong in Social Sciences and Cognitive Sciences, many such applications can be designed and developed.



Sarita Chebbi is a minimalist runner, practising yogi and baker of all things whole-wheat, and sugar-free. Currently re-learning her ABC’s…the one that goes: A for algorithm, B for Bayesian, C for convolutional (neural network)….



  1. Very creative thought….

    Sajimudeen says:

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