Note from Beth: I went to my first Games for Change Festival ten years ago, in 2005 and have been a fan and supporter ever since. They also offer any reader of Beth’s Blog a special discount code of 10% on the conference registeration (use this code: 10beth when you register) Meghan Ventura from Games for Change has wrote this guest post about how nonprofits are using games to leverage their missions.
Games — both digital and analog — provide a great opportunity for inviting players to interact with a real-world causes and societal challenges. By placing players squarely in the middle of the issues at-hand, games for social impact allow them to experience the nuances of these challenges in a way that is often as transformative and it is informative. Games’ strength is not showing “this is the problem, and here is the answer,” but to broaden players’ perspectives, build engagement, and ask “what are some ways we could address this?”
The following games are expanding the reach of various nonprofits and helping them connect with audiences in meaningful ways. For more on these projects and to meet the people behind them, check out the upcoming Games for Change Festival (April 21-23 & 25), NYC’s largest gaming event and the leading international event for games with impact, bringing together the social change community and game makers.
Games for a New Climate
The Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre teamed up with Parsons The New School of Design’s PETLab to develop Games for a New Climate, a series of games about disaster preparedness in the face of flooding, drought, and other climate change issues. These games, played in lo-fi settings such as beaches and villages, are played with Red Cross staff and volunteers, climate scientists, politicians, and members. By working through possible climate-related problems and solutions in these non-digital games, communities build their capacity to make complex decisions about and respond to crisis situations quickly, effectively, and as a group.
“We wanted to create games that many community members could play together, and that would spark conversations about disaster preparedness among many different members of the community,” said Colleen Macklin, Games for a New Climate‘s director and designer, in a recent Adlibbing interview. “In our time making and playing these games with communities from Africa to Asia, we learned that one of the most powerful things about games is their ability to erase hierarchies and, both figuratively and literally, bring everyone to the table.”
Senate Immersion Module
Created by ESI Design, the 100-player Senate Immersion Module game was made for the Edward M. Kennedy (EMK) Institute to support it in educating the public about U.S. government and encouraging participatory democracy. Players participate in simulated Senate sessions, including role-play, deliberation, negotiation, and debate, to make sense of the legislative process. They work together in varied group sizes to consider historic issues, significant moments in the Senate’s history and current policies affecting the country.
The Senate Immersion Module will launch in Boston in March, at the opening of the EMK Institute. The public will be able to participate in a contemporary simulation focused Healthcare or an historic simulation based on the Compromise of 1850. The game will also be playable at the Games for Change Festival, where its creators will engage in an in-depth discussion of their process and purpose.
Half the Sky Movement: The Game
Through their work on the transmedia Half the Sky series, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have made millions aware of human rights issues in the U.S. and abroad through their work in games, film, and print. Half the Sky Movement: The Game, a Facebook adventure game that raised awareness and donations for girls and women’s causes worldwide, has transformed 1.3 million players’ in-game actions into real-world donations totaling $500,000, providing 250,000 books and $198,600 for fistula surgeries. To make the games, Nick and Sheryl partnered with Games for Change, Zynga, Frima Studio, and a coalition of nonprofits, such as Room to Read, the Fistula Foundation, and more.
Nick and Sheryl have continued their reporting on human rights violations around the globe in their new nonfiction book and documentary series, A Path Appears. At the Games for Change Festival, they’ll speak about games and new media for social impact and also sign copies of A Path Appears.
Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa)
Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna) is a critically acclaimed video game and interactive record of Alaskan Native culture. Through a partnership with game studio E-Line Media and the nonprofit Cook Inlet Tribal Council, it became the first game developed in collaboration with the Iñupiat community. Nearly 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers, and community members contributed to the development of the game.
Switching between an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna and her arctic fox companion, the player completes puzzles throughout a story based on Alaskan folklore. 24 high-quality mini-documentary clips about Native Alaskan life and the challenges faced in preserving ancient culture in modern times are unlocked as the player progresses through the game. These clips were embraced positively by players and game critics alike, with PC Gamer writing, “‘Unlocking’ is too bleak and unfeeling a word, though — what you’re doing is reclaiming, rescuing the fragments of a way of life that’s melting away into the ocean, in order to shore up the sense of fellowship that’s boldly insisted upon by the game’s title. … Never Alone is a wonderful living record.”
A couple hundred thousand copies of Never Alone have already been sold, and E-Line Media expects to break the 1 million mark. E-Line Media plans to continue developing “world games” about other cultures.
Games for Change Festival
Learn more about these projects directly from their leaders at the Games For Change Festival (http://gamesforchange.org/festival/) in April. The full Festival program, featuring speakers from the most successful mobile games to cutting-edge virtual reality projects, is available here. Don’t miss this special offer for Beth’s Blog readers: Get 10% off passes with the code 10beth. This code is good until the Festival, but it also stacks on top of the 20% early-bird discount for those register by Friday, February 20, so be sure to use it now for the best deal on Festival tickets.