Games for Change
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Games for Change (also known as G4C) is a movement and community of practice dedicated to using digital games for social change. An individual game may also be referred to as a "game for change" if it is produced by this community or shares its ideals. "Games for Change" is also the name for the non-profit organization which is building the field by providing support, visibility, and shared resources to individuals and organizations using digital games for social change.
Games for Change, founded by Suzanne Seggerman and Benjamin Stokes, is often considered a branch of serious games focused on social issues and social change. Its members represent hundreds of non-profit directors, game developers, artists and academics—a network committed to social change through gaming.
The movement first emerged as Games for Change at a Serious Issues, Serious Games' conference held at New York Academy of Sciences on June 8, 2004. The invitation-only event gathered 40+ foundations, academics and nonprofits for a day "to mobilize support for a medium with growing importance for nonprofits." The event was organized with the support of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and Serious Games Initiative, after several nonprofits at their December, 2003 gathering  in Washington, DC noted the need for a dedicated space for those working on social change with nonprofit organizations. The NYC event served to jump-start the space, and was organized by Suzanne Seggerman of Web Lab, Benjamin Stokes of NetAid, Barry Joseph of Global Kids, David Rejeski of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and Thomas Lowenhaupt of the Queens Community Board.
The movement grew legs after the first gathering as it launched a listserv dedicated to games and social issues and began holding satellite events at various events, including the Game Developers Conference, the Serious Games Summit, Education Arcade at E3, Games and Learning Conference, Taicon and several others.
The annual Games for Change Festival has since been held in 2005 at CUNY and in 2006 with Parsons The New School for Design In 2011, the Festival moved to the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at New York University.
Founded in 2004, Games for Change facilitates the creation and distribution of social impact games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts. It brings together organizations and individuals from the social impact sector, government, media, academia, the gaming industry, and the arts to grow the field, incubate new projects, and provide an open platform for the exchange of ideas and resources. It is the only non-profit dedicated to uniting the various parties needed to create and distribute successful social impact games. Games for Change specializes in bringing together funders, content specialists, learning experts, and creative teams to create successful and sustainable titles.
Games for Change acts as a catalyst for the creation of high quality, high impact educational and social change games while building and sharing replicable models for game funders, commissioners, and developers to use. These tools will advance the field and inspire private investment, greater adoption of by nonprofits and Government agencies, and widespread mainstream public participation. The work includes providing an entry point for game makers, content creators, and public sector entities that are new to the field. For the funding community, Games for Change shows signs of becoming a coordinating hub for collaborative investment and evaluation of social change games projects. Games for Change also strives to educate the philanthropic and corporate community, engage the public, and advocate for high-quality games.
One example of how Games for Change leverages the resources of major foundations is its relationship with the AMD Foundation. Games for Change was chosen to be the founding partner by the AMD Foundation for its signature education program, “Changing the Game”, which enriches the educational experience of young people aged 13 through 18. The initiative enables youth to learn critical STEM skills, become globally conscious citizens, and contribute solutions to social issues by creating their own games. The program now has added partners across the US and Asia, including Beijing Game Design Workshop & Technology Lab, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and Malaysian Cybergames Festival 2010.
Games for Change has worked further with the AMD Foundation on initiatives to inspire youth engagement and support organizations in making and using games. “Let the Games Begin: A Toolkit 4 Making Social Issue Games” includes examples of social change games, interviews and video lectures by experts in the field, and guidance for individuals and organizations creating social issue games for the first time. Distributed online and as a DVD, it has reached tens of thousands of educators, individuals and organizations. “The Power of Design: Youth Making Social Issue Games” is a series of daylong workshops directed at educators to give an overview of game design platforms and successful youth game design curricula and programs. Partners and collaborators on the program included Global Kids, World Wide Workshop, PETLab, EDC/Center for Children & Technology, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Quest to Learn among others. This workshop has reached hundreds of educators and is set to reach thousands more via a partnership with Scholastic that will feature it on their website. The “101 Workshop” is another series of programs to make the case for social impact games and to support organizations and individuals who want to use digital games as a part of educational and outreach efforts. This workshop has reached over 5,000 educators and decision makers in the public sector, and will also reach many more via the Scholastic website.
Beyond these intensive, long-term relationships, Games for Change’s influence is also seen in the remarkably wide, cross-sector list of companies and organizations that have sought its advice: Hasbro, News Corp, Google Ideas, ABC News, Edelman, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Special Olympics / North America, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, UN Foundation, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Millennium Promise, DoSomething.org, Ballard & Tighe Publishers, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fetzer Institute, Energy Solutions Foundation, Participant Media, Choices, The Rockefeller Foundation, Just Detention International, and Concerned Children’s Advertisers. And as the field’s leading advocate, Games for Change has been invited to present and speak at many important gatherings and think tanks, from TEDx to Harvard’s Kennedy School.
Games for Change is able to build these strategic partnerships because of the experience its leadership brings from the gaming, independent media, nonprofit, and NGO worlds. Co-President Asi Burak has more than a decade of experience in the gaming industry, creating successful social impact games (including the award-winning PeaceMaker and Play the News), working with the private sector, individual investors, government agencies, incubators, and as an advocate for the field. An expert in the field, Asi has been invited to speak at numerous places including TEDTalks, NTEN, and Harvard’s Kennedy Center. Co-President Michelle Byrd served as Executive Director of Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), building the IFP into the largest organization of independent filmmakers in the US; she was responsible for strategic partnerships (including the UN, New York Times, and Sundance Institute), and her work landed her on both Variety’s “Indie Impact List: 50 Who Made a Difference” and The Hollywood Reporter’s “Women in Entertainment Power 100” lists.
Games for Change is accountable to its board of directors, advisory board, funders, partners, peers in the field, and to the public. It shares its outcomes and reports to these stakeholders in several ways: it prepares reports and evaluations for funders and partners; informs the public and peers through its annual Festival, events, talks and Web site; and also shares results with peers through reports, whitepapers, and presentations.
The Games for Change Festival
Since 2004, Games for Change has hosted the Games for Change Festival in New York. Often referred to as “the Sundance of Video Games”, the Games for Change Annual Festival is the biggest gaming event in New York City. It brings together leaders from government, corporations, philanthropy, civil society, media, academia, and the gaming industry to explore the increasing real-world impact of digital games as an agent for social change. In recent years, the Games for Change Festival has become the most important place to launch a new initiative because it is the best way to connect with the various stakeholders in the field. The festival also showcases some of the most innovative new games in production with its annual “Demo Spotlight,” which gives select game developers the opportunity to present their projects on the main stage of the festival to a panel of designers and funders for feedback.
The 8th Annual Festival (June 20–22, 2011) featured more than 40 hours of content: talks, game case studies, workshops, a live game arcade, the 2nd Annual Games for Change Awards Show, and social events. Vice President at the time, Al Gore delivered the opening keynote. Other featured speakers included Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sheryl WuDunn (Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide), Laura Pincus Hartman of Zynga.org, game guru Jesse Schell, and James H. Shelton III of the US Department of Education.
In 2013, the event featured a Hall of Fame to celebrate its 10th year. 5 Games were added that represent the best games in social impact for the last decade. The games were Hidden agenda game, Meritt Kopas's Lim, Lukas Pope's Papers, Please, Cheavvleir's Vigiliance 1.0 and Lindsay Grace's Critical Gameplay Wait.
Past festivals have included talks by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, author and journalist Nicholas Kristof, and more. Past festival archive can be found at the organization’s festival page.
The Games for Change Awards
The organization hosts the Annual Games for Change Awards held during the Games for Change Festival. The Awards recognize excellence in “games for change” that address current and pressing social issues. As of 2011, four awards are bestowed:
- The Direct Impact award: for games targeting specific audiences with proven outcomes
- The Knight News Game award: supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to recognize a range of games featuring current events, documentary subject matter, infographic or news data, puzzles, literacy, community engagement, or that exist as a news platform
- The Learning and Education award: to games designed to highlight and/or teach specific topics in the classroom or in informal learning environments
- The Transmedia award: for games that are part of a larger cross-media campaign
- Hall of Fame
Past winners have included Fate of the World, Inside the Haiti Earthquake, and EVOKE.
Games for Change collects a growing catalog of case studies on a variety of game projects. With in-depth data on project budgets, funding sources, distribution models, reach, and efficacy, these case studies offer games for change creators valuable insight into game production from concept to release. Case studies include such games as iCivics, PeaceMaker and Darfur is Dying.
Games for Change has gone global with several chapters hosted in different regions around the world.
In France, the Chamber of Commerce in Valenciennes supported the establishment of Games for Change Europe. Seeing an opportunity to link games with economic development, the government launched the first European Games for Change Festival in May 2011.
A newly formed Latin America chapter, headquartered in São Paulo, Brazil, is moving quickly to forge strategic partnerships, including ones with the Brazilian Association of the Game Industry and the Brazilian Computer Science Society.
The South Korean chapter of Games for Change has been going strong ever since its formation in 2007. The chapter has worked with the South Korean government to sponsor multi-million dollar game projects and hold annual game-making summer camps for youth.
Service to the community
On the Play section of its website, Games for Change curates a “game arcade”: an ever-growing catalogue of serious and social impact games covering a wide range of topics, many of which are available to play online for free. The site includes video documentation from past Festivals, the “101 Workshop” and “Power of Design: Youth Making Social Issue Games Workshop”, links to blogs, research papers, and grant opportunities. The organization also shares a selection of resources for those interested in researching, creating, or funding games for change. These resources include useful websites and blogs, videos, essays, toolkits, and grant opportunities.
The Games for Change web site also offers several ways that people can get engaged or start on the path to creating a game. The downloadable “Make a Game for Change Toolkit” offers everything one needs to know to take the first steps. Neither a technical or design manual, it is an overview of the game-making process that presents some of the key topics to start with, how to begin the conversation both within an organization and with outside partners, emphasizing that creating a social impact game is a collaborative process that likely will require an experienced game designer and developer.
To help create a larger community of enthusiasts, Games for Change created the Games for Change Meetup Everywhere site, which enables anyone around the world to self-organize under the organization’s banner and access community tools to create their own Meetup events. Games for Change has created a toolkit that provides tips, techniques, and even a handy timeline to help individual organizers in putting together a successful event. Since its debut in October 2010, 52 communities have formed using this platform – from San Francisco to Bangalore – with members ranging from 4 to over 100. Successful self-organized Meetups are covered by the Games for Change blog and social media, so they can serve as a model for other to initiate their own events.
The Games for Change Lab
Games for Change provides a suite of services to guide organizations and individuals that are actively pursuing games to further their public, philanthropic, or academic mission. The services seek to lift up the field of social impact games and can range from the modest to the comprehensive: concept workshops, help in a public “request for proposal” process, or support in the production and launch of a project. G4C guides the alignment of goals, audience, game platform, and distribution channels.
Through its high-profile initiative with partner foundations, government agencies, and nonprofits, Games for Change is establishing industry-wide standards including methodologies and assessment practices; publicizing outcomes and best practices; and creating and implementing replicable models of multi-stakeholder partnerships that can advance the entire field. Past and current projects include strategic advising for USAID for a global initiative that uses games to empower youth in the Middle East, the World Bank Learning Institute on a series of game projects aimed at policy makers in developing countries, and the American Museum of Natural History to develop game-related projects to address youth engagement with the sciences.
Additionally, Games for Change is in production on the Half the Sky project, a multi-million dollar transmedia project based on the best-selling book by Pulitzer Prize–winning authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The project aims to highlight the moral challenge of oppression of women around the world, teach young women how to unlock their economic power, and equally to present the opportunities women offer to promote economic and international development. Games for Change is working as the Executive Producer of the game component, cooperating with several partners to develop a global Facebook game and mobile games for audiences in India and Africa. Funders of the transmedia project include the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, USAID, the Ford Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and ITVS.
For organizations developing more ambitious projects, Games for Change assists in the development of a “game technology engine,” a concept taken from the commercial industry. The “game engine” enables the developer to alter the content and interface while keeping most of the core technology and code. A game commissioner can think in terms of a portfolio of games, and rather than build every game from scratch – for different regions or constituencies – can efficiently create iterations of a game similar to how the commercial industry generates game sequels.
Games for Change is guiding the investment of over $8 million into social change games that have the potential to reach over 50 million people. In addition, adoption of Games for Change’s methodology and assessment protocols by major organizations is laying the groundwork for further investment and the establishment of field-wide standards that will continue this trend. Games for Change’s work defining these standards and approaches is having a broad impact on the development of social change games, how games are incorporated into educational initiatives, and how games are evaluated.
More information about Games for Change and social impact games at large can be found on the organization’s blog, in their newsletter, in addition to Twitter and Facebook pages. The Games for Change community also hosts Meetups and connects via the Games for Change Google Group.
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