Games for Change Festival Broadens Its Horizons

Games for Change LogoCelebrating its seventh year of existence, the Games for Change Festival will be taking place from May 24-27, 2010 at Parsons The New School of Design in New York, NY. The annual event looks at the power of video games to help address the most critical social issues of the day and is an opportunity for interested groups to learn how games can be useful tools to stimulate change.

The event unites philanthropic foundations of all stripes, various non-governmental organizations, as well as game developers and academics for four days of workshops and discussion. The 2009 Festival drew over 400 participants, with organizers looking to exceed that number this year. Read More...

The Festival is an initiative of Games for Change, a non-profit organization that seeks to harness the power of video games to solve such issues as poverty, education, human rights, global conflict and climate change. Games for Change also acts as a knowledge and resource base for networking and game development, providing expertise and assistance to foundations and non-profit groups entering the field of serious games.

Video games are indeed finding growing support and not only from those in the entertainment industry. The public sector is increasingly embracing video games to advance key administration priorities, especially in the areas of learning, health and civic participation. In fact, the White House has turned to Microsoft to help build a "deficit-fighting" game that would give citizens a better understanding of the economic challenges faced by the government.

Games for Change organizers did not miss this trend and have invited Aneesh Chopra, the first-ever US Chief Technology Officer, to open the Festival with keynote presentation on May 24. Chopra's address will be followed by a panel on national public games.

"The Government is really looking at games as a platform to do a lot more than simply entertain," said Alex Quinn, Executive Director of Games for Change, in an interview with Game Forward. The White House announcement "is a real extension of that. I think the public-private partnership in this case is also noteworthy."

US Chief Technology Officer Aneesh ChopraOn May 25, another panel will discuss the place of mobile games in developing countries, where cellular phone access is often more prevalent then computer access. The panel will showcase projects developed by UNICEF,  Carnegie Mellon University and Indian start-up ZMQ. A discussion will also tackle the challenge of making social impact games profitable.

May 26 features a keynote speech by the Honourable Sandra Day-O'Connor, former US Supreme Court Justice, who is returning to the Festival for a second time. Day 2 will also offer presentations by philanthropic foundations that support public interest games highlighting their current initiatives, goals and restraints; a panel on Direct Action Games, a concept which assigns points to real-life civic actions; and a presentation on the positive impact of video game development on children.

Preceding the Festival on May 24, an all-day event will further explore the educational power of building games. Entitled "The Power of Design: Youth Making Social Issues Games," the day will offer panels and presentations including a session by Globalia, a game-making social network for students; demos of game-creation platforms; and a case-study of Global Kids' Playing for Keeps program for STEM education.

"Young people are intensely curious about how games are made, and now with the availability of several game creation tools, they are becoming not just consumers, but game makers," explain Festival organizers. "Game making incorporates a wide range of technical and artistic skills, and is an exceptional way to engage learners in complex systems thinking."

The theme day is sponsored by AMD's Changing the Game education initiative, designed to promote social issue game development as a tool to inspire teens to lean, improve their STEM skills and become more engaged with global social issues.

Also on May 24, a special day-long workshop will offer tips for new and returning non-profit organizations looking to build and publish social issues games. The "Games for Change 101.5" workshop features new content and builds off sessions offered at previous Festivals. Touching on game design and business models to fundraising and press strategies, the day will offer a look at case studies while providing insight into real-world implementation.

Resulting from a recent and almost natural partnership, the Festival is also introducing a new theme day to the event, on May 27. In collaboration with the Games for Learning Institute at NYU, the Festival will feature an entire day devoted to research and design innovation in the field of games in education.

"There is certainly some overlap in terms of interests and experts, so we thought why not take advantage of all people coming to New York and organize an additional day, which does have a different focus than the rest of the Festival--looking more at games and learning," said Quinn.

"A lot of times in social issue games there can be things about how to change behaviour, or move people to some kind of action on a certain issue, but also do they come to a richer or more nuanced understanding of a particular issue, that very much overlaps with goals of education."

The first half of the day which is dedicated to research innovation will look at themes including the relationship between the motivating factors of video games and their impact on learning outcomes; the context in which computer games can be useful for instruction; and the use of action games as learning tools. On design innovation, presentations will touch on how to take advantage of games as a medium to support active learning; how to design games for learning in a social context; and the use of embedded assessments within immersive world games.

Merely one year and a half old, the Games for Learning Institute welcomes the opportunity to be involved in this year's Games for Change Festival. “Games for Learning is only 18 months old, but reflects the efforts of many professionals already working across a broad spectrum of inquiry for many years in computer science, educational technology and psychology and game design,” said Ken Perlin, Director of Games for Learning.

“On behalf of our [Games for Learning Institute] partners from NYU and our eight partner universities, it is a honor for the Games for Learning Institute to help extend the mission of Games for Change to include the voices of our colleagues and friends in the community of learning games," Perlin added.

New Consulting and Producing Services Group

Given the popularity of its workshops, Games for Change recently announced the launch of a new consulting and producing service group with the goal of working with individuals and organizations that are interested in or actively pursuing computer and video games to further their public, philanthropic or academic interests. The group is spearheaded by award-winning game developer Asi Burak who will act as Executive Producer.

Students Using Video Games in the Classroom"With Asi on board, Games for Change is now in a position to fulfill the many requests we receive from organizations for help guiding individual game projects toward realizing their full potential," said Alex Quinn. "These expanded services further our mission to serve and lead the field of social impact games."

While some members of the industry feel the move means that Games for Change will be in direct competition with game developers, Quinn says that it is not the case. "Games for Change by no means intends to compete with non-profit or for-profit developers that are working in this space -- quite the opposite," said Quinn in an email statement.

"We are not getting into the craft of developing games, but intend to guide organizations that approach us seeking support. We have assisted many organizations entering this space through our '101 Workshop,' online resources, and one-on-one meetings. Nevertheless, we still see a huge gap between the interest by certain groups  in creating a social issue game and the ability to navigate the space and move into execution.  For this reason, many such projects have never fulfilled their true potential, and have not matured beyond the idea level."

Through these expanded services, Games for Change hopes to assist interested parties in the development of new projects by providing the most relevant experience in the field. The group will be sharing the knowledge base organizations need to make the series of decisions necessary to make a successful social issue game – from initial concept, design, production, distribution, and evaluation.

While some of these services will be provided pro-bono, the group also plans to charge for work costs and extensive time spent on single projects. The group also hopes to work in conjunction with members of the social issue games community who can provide specific expertise, thus promoting networking.

"We see this as a way to extend our mission, and create more opportunities for our community members: funders, non-profit partners, and game developers and designers. We genuinely believe that if successful, we will see more projects taking place, with a better chance to succeed for the benefit of all of us," added Quinn.