Games for Change 2012

Katelyn Procci, Random No Comments

Katelyn Procci | July 2, 2012

Two of us from RETRO, myself and Jenny Vogel, attended the 9th annual Games for Change last week held at NYU. It was a wonderful event, filled with really great speakers. Jenny also attended the pre-festival Federal Games Working Group earlier in the week, which she will be blogging about later. I am not posting any notes, but instead I am writing an overview of the event and spamming you with links. So here goes:

Games for Change opened on Tuesday, June 19 with an awesome keynote by Jane McGonigal, who is probably one of the most inspiring individuals in all of gaming. If you haven’t seen her TED talk or checked out any of her games, you really should. Not only is she a talented speaker, she is great at what she does. During her keynote, she discussed her newest project, SuperBetter, which is a game that helps individuals both build social support structures and tackle their own real-world challenges while becoming a better, stronger, healthier person. The afternoon closed with Nolan Bushnell of the Atari fame. He’s a great speaker, has done everything you can think of, and if you ever have a chance to hear him speak, I highly recommend it. He talked a little about Brainrush, which reminds me of everything we know about intelligent tutoring but gamified. It’s interesting, and it should be something to watch.

Wednesday opened with Dr. James Paul Gee, someone that I quote way too often when I am off trying to figure how to best make learning games, who provided the audience with new elements that these games should strive to have to be the most effective. I will post a link to the slides once they go up on the G4C website. The day ended with two great talks, one from Michael D. Gallagher from the ESA and the other from Lucy Bradshaw, the senior VP Maxis, for some industry insights.

And what happened in-between? The days were packed with speakers, discussing their projects, presenting results, and showing off their games. We at RETRO tend to stick to training and mental health games, so seeing all of the different ways games are being used is refreshing. Here are my favorites:

  • Game-o-Matic – A tool that allows you to quickly generate minigames relevant to current events. I really like the idea of this, that you can take gameplay elements and match them up with content. We do a lot of the same things with our Novonics minigames — the content can be edited using XML files and the art assets can be easily switched out. As long as the content aligns with the mechanic, you can reuse the core programming for our minigames over and over. This is a similar idea.

  • Sweatshop – Think Diner Dash, but instead with sweatshops. But wait, it goes deeper. To play the game, you need to make some difficult choices, and as you play, you really begin to understand the harsh reality of where all of our beloved stuff comes from.

  • Teach with Portals – I’ve been pretty excited about this since James Bohnsack told me about it last year (it was also the focus of Gabe Newell’s keynote from G4C 2011). Portal 2 has a great editing tool where people can make all sorts of puzzles. The game, the puzzles, and the content can all be easily turned into engaging educational lessons to teach students about physics. There are plenty of free lesson plans online for anyone to use. There was a really interesting article in Wired about it, and you can even watch the presentation itself.

  • Half the Sky – This is a pretty amazing movement exposing the troubling truth of how girls and women are oppressed across the globe. All sorts of mediums are being used to leverage their message. It involves mobile games to raise awareness and provide information to struggling women in India, Kenya, and Tanazania. There is a Facebook game, a documentary that will be releasing soon, and, of course, the book that started it all. It will be interesting to see how this project pans out.

  • Unmanned – The game takes you through the day of a drone pilot. Coming from a human factors background with a games-for-training/resilience work history, my gut reaction before I actually played it was that this game attempts to mitigate the psychological stressors associated with this task. Not quite. It takes a different approach, instead giving outside players a glimpse into this UAV pilot’s life. This game offers no solutions, but is a tool to shed a little insight and the player has to draw their own conclusions about what it really means. This is a game that makes a statement, a side of serious games I rarely explore. It’s worth a play.

Also worth checking out is The 100. A list generated through crowdsourcing, these are the games that anyone who wants to get into gaming should play!

I was lucky enough to also be a speaker at the festival. I presented on the lessons we learned during the development and testing of the Rivet City Mod. They will be posting a video of the presentation, and soon I will post the slides for download, too, so stay tuned!

Edit for awesome: I found some great links from other people blogging about the festival. Since I didn’t go in depth with my post, you can check out their excellent posts here:

James Paul Gee’s Games for Change Keynote by Gail Carmichael
Games for Change 2012 – Notes & Musings by Amanda Warner

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