Literacy game for Syrian refugee children

Cologne Game Lab (CGL), the lebanese developer Wixel Studios and the spain-based NGO Video Games Without Borders (VGWB) have been selected as one of the three finalists of the competition „EduApp4Syria“. The objective is to develop an open source smartphone application that helps Syrian children learn how to read and write Arabic and improve their psychosocial well-being. In order to transform the prototype of „Antura and the Letters” into a fully developed game, the team receives a 270.000 Euro grant.


Over 2.8 million Syrian children are out of school due to war and expulsion; a lot of them are traumatized and subjected to high levels of stress. As a result, besides all personal suffering and tragical individual fates, their learning ability is affected and a wealth of human resources, creativity, and achievement of a whole generation is being lost.


The initiative EduApp4Syria is spearheaded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), the Norwegian Government and several international partners. There have been 78 bidders for the competition initially – now the three finalists have been announced. In “Antura wa al Huruf” (Antura and The Letters) the players are invited to help an old shepherd keep watch over his living letters – some wild little creatures. With the help of the keeper’s dog Antura, the player embarks on a journey through multiple mini-games, which correspond to content from Syrian elementary school curriculum.


“We are very happy that our game was selected among the three finalists,” says Emmanuel Guardiola, team leader and initiator of the project at Cologne Game Lab. “It’s amazing to see what people from Middle East, North Africa and Europe were able to develop in such a short time, working together for the same cause. Syrian children are our energy and motivation: we tested the game several times with them, both in Germany and Lebanon. We are looking forward to distribute the finished game all through Middle East and Europe, with the hope to bring literacy and smiles to those kids.”

In order to ensure the game’s high quality concerning content and development, different external experts have been invited. The international advisory board helped consulting on issues like Arabic literacy, psychological expertise and scientific standards. The three finalists will now have to finish their apps by December 2016, when either one or two winners will be selected to receive further funding for distribution and testing among Syrian refugee families during the next year. The overall funding for the competition is approximately 1.7 million USD.


“This project demonstrates the enormous potential of digital games to make this world a better place”, says Prof. Gundolf S. Freyermuth, Co-Director of CGL: “It will provide children in need with a proper education, allowing them to pursue fruitful careers. And it also furthered a new international partnership between the Cologne Game Lab, Wixel and VGWB. A strong bond across borders and cultures has been formed.” As each party brings to the table something unique and stimulates and complements the others, more future joint projects are planned in order to continue this great creative cooperation.



Cover Picture ©  Mai Saki

The partners are:

Wixel Studios (Lebanon)

Wixel Studios is an independent gaming company based in Kaslik, Lebanon. Established in 2008, Wixel started developing fun and innovative video games based on original local and international intellectual property. Heads of the company are Ziad Feghali and Reine Abbas. The studio has long been invested in the future of children through its initiative SpicaTwins, that aimed to fill gaps left by outdated school curriculums and modernizing them at an institutional level. Years of experience in Game Design and Development led them to integrate core school lessons into the courses they provide, teaching STEM while integrating art and Game Design. Due to their proximity and familiarity with the Syrian conflict, Wixel is in a unique position. Being first-hand witnesses of the situation, the plight of 1.6 million Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, their cultural brothers and sisters who have been left without a home, they have a very strong motivation to


Video Games Without Borders (Spain)

VGWB is a non-profit organization that maximizes video games’ positive contribution to society. Since its creation in Spain in 2015, VGWB has built an online community of people, from both developed and developing countries, that believe that digital games can change the world for better!. VGWB will coordinate the development and the field testing with the ambition of building a game system that will be re-useable for other languages and in other humanitarian crises in the future. VGWB will also be the main point of contact for the NGOs with whom the consortium will


Cologne Game Lab (Germany)

CGL is part of the Faculty of Cultural Sciences at TH Koeln (Cologne University of Applied Sciences). The Institute promotes the research and development of interactive content, such as digital games, playful software applications as well as interactive film and TV formats. CGL is bridging the gap between interactive art, entertainment and learning. By hosting public events and expert conferences, CGL discusses crucial and controversial games topics, making them available to the public and thus fostering a dialogue across target groups. In other research projects CGL already gathered experiences in developing educative, augmented reality-based mobile games. Furthermore, CGL is the German satellite for „Games for Change Europe“ and as such, builds the bridge between experimental and applied research in the field of transformational game