Novelly Story Games/Interactive Webcomics

Reimagining civic education through interactive webcomics.

Photo of DJ Ren
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Written by

Additional categories (optional)

  • Technology

Website or social media url(s) (optional): @novellyorg

Date You Started Your Project Started

September 26, 2019

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that only 23% of 8th graders in the US are proficient in civics. This creates a civic engagement gap where we as young people are less visible and less heard as citizens. This gap is further widened if we look at students who come from low-income, minority, and marginalized communities. This has far-reaching impacts on equity.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Currently, Novelly’s interactive webcomic is Layla’s Last Week, which is part of a greater series focused on topics related to adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Based on the success of this project, the Youth Designers at Novelly are proposing a new series to address other “tough topics” outside of SRHR. These interactive webcomics (also known as story games) are stories where you can make choices for the main character and shape the plot while accessing pop-up fun facts and links to resources along the way. This is effective for building empathy and exploring how your actions affect others. While this has worked for Layla’s Last Week and engaging us with SRHR, we want webcomics/story games that explore how youth are affected by issues related to poverty, racial discrimination, and climate change. This is similar to augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) in that it is immersing you into a character’s life and a story, but it is much more accessible. It does not require fancy devices or headsets. Because all of these interactive webcomics are on a website, you only need to have access to the Internet.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

I volunteer and work with a librarian and six months ago, she told me about a new non-profit called Novelly. It wanted to reimagine civic education for kids through reading and because I am a bookworm who loves reading, I had to get involved. Novelly asked me about everything from my reading habits to my passions and they turned my thoughts into different ideas. They also showed me what is now the Novelly app. I loved the idea of having an app where I could read stories for me and share my thoughts on them with other bookworms. I wanted to stay involved and Novelly brought me on as a Youth Designer. I am part of their staff and it is my role in the organization to keep pushing and redefining what reading can look like for kids and innovate in ways that build empathy among readers.

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Alex is on Instagram and comes across a new Novelly interactive webcomic, Divided. It’s about Javier, a teenager and US citizen whose single mother is an undocumented immigrant. The post has an image in which Javier comes home from school to find it empty. There are two choice points: “Call Tia to see if mom’s at her house” or “Make yourself some dinner.” Alex goes through the webcomic and sees life through Javier’s eyes. After his mom gets deported, Javier lives with his aunt and navigates high school without his mom. At the end, there are informational resources and Alex reads up on some of them. Alex wonders if any of his classmates are like Javier. That worries him and he wants to help. He knows that his parents do not think undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay and this prompts Alex to ask them what they think about Javier’s situation.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

How can you care about an issue when you are not aware of it, not directly affected, or no one around you wants to talk about it with you in a way that is productive and not intimidating? As students, we are bombarded by campaigns and projects on the news and social media to get us involved. It’s overwhelming. Sometimes, we are lucky to have clubs where our thoughts and explorations are taken seriously, but sometimes, we are not. However, an interactive webcomic series has these strengths: fun to play, accessible to everyone, learning through empathy, and a conversation starter with friends.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Novelly developed Layla’s Last Week by working with 40 teens in 5 states across the US South. From these interviews, Novelly identified the issue: sexual and reproductive health topics are scary to talk about. However, they need to be talked about because the teens often dealt with issues like dating abuse, revenge porn, and sexual coercion without realizing that they were serious issues. We created a simple, interactive webcomic with a compelling story that feels authentic and is centered on relationships and relationship problems that they experience in their own lives. After using Layla’s Last Week and reflecting on it with Novelly staff, the teenagers opened up about their personal experiences with these issues and said things like: “Wow, I never told anyone that before, but it feels good to.” “This feels so real! This is something I would say!”

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We already have an illustrator at Novelly, but we will be looking for writers who can tell stories that need to be told. We will also be interviewing our peers to learn what issues they want to explore the most from a first-person perspective but haven’t found opportunities to do so. What if we could find a high school student who is Pacific Islander and who wants the world to know the effects of climate change that she sees first-hand? What if we could find a Pacific Islander writer to tell her story? What if we could find a teenager living in West Virginia who has seen first-hand the effects of automation and job loss? We know that stories and immersive storytelling is the most powerful tool that we have for civic engagement and social ch

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Marketing Strategy

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations between $100-$1k

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Other

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 66.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 66.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 50%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 100%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Alison Tu


I'd like to say that I think that this idea is really excellent! Honestly, it feels like civic engagement just isn't targeted enough in our communities, and that's really sad because our future really does depend on how knowledgeable and informed that generations growing up are. I'd love to see this project expand to be something international and incorporate multiple perspectives with a wide range of comics, but I think that your initiative right now is already on its way towards making a huge difference. :)

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