Note from Beth: I’ve been a fan of the Games for Change Festival since I first attended in 2006. So, I’m thrilled that community manager, Meghan Ventura, who is responsible for cultivating the community presence of Games for Change agreed to write this guest post about nonprofits who are using games for social change. And, don’t miss this special offer: Get 10% off tickets with the code beth_g4c14. You can register here.
Nonprofits Who are Making A Difference Through Play – guest post by Meghan Ventura
Video games are big — bigger than Hollywood in terms of revenue, as a $66 billion global industry. While not every game has a record-breaking release like Grand Theft Auto 5, which netted $1 billion in three days, they certainly have a wide audience. Players, who collectively average about 30 years old in the U.S., and 47% of whom are female, spend a collective 3 billion hours per week on digital games!
Several nonprofits have successfully interacted with, and more importantly, seen impact from, these engaged new audiences. We’ll share some of these case studies below, but for more, check out these projects and learn more about the people behind them at the Games for Change Festival (http://www.gamesforchange.org/festival), NYC’s largest gaming event that convenes the social change community and game makers, next month (April 22-24 & 26).
GlassLab (http://www.instituteofplay.org/work/projects/glasslab/ ) explores the potential for existing, commercially successful digital games to serve both as potent learning environments and real-time assessments of student learning. Its strategic partnership with Electronic Arts has enabled GlassLab to develop SimCityEDU, a game-based classroom tool that uses the beloved SimCity franchise to engage students in real-world challenges. This software includes assessment tools for evaluating students’ ability to problem solve, explain the relationships in complex systems, and comprehend informational texts and diagrams. SimCityEDU has been piloted by over 100 teachers and 3,000 students.
Games provide tremendous opportunities for learning about real-world issues. A study (http://www.sri.com/work/projects/glasslab-research) funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and MacArthur Foundation has found “when digital games were compared to other instruction conditions without digital games, there was a moderate to strong effect in favor of digital games in terms of broad cognitive competencies.”
Another nonprofit furthering research behind games and learning is the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Through projects like the Games and Learning Publishing Council and the National STEM Video Game Challenge (http://www.stemchallenge.org/), the Cooney Center explores the power of games to advance learning and engage vulnerable students.
The neuroscientists at the Gazzaley Lab at University of California, San Francisco, have shown that games can improve our cognitive function. Don’t run to play Mario just yet though — the game has to be specially designed to fill in lapses in brain activity from the start! For example, the game NeuroRacer can help the elderly improve their multitasking skills, with improvements in everyday activities that last for at least six months, according to a study published by a research team led by Dr. Adam Gazzaley.
Games can also empower players to help solve seemingly impossible scientific problems. One infamous example is Foldit, a protein-folding puzzle game that crowdsources potential real-world protein structures and solutions. Within just 10 days of folding, Foldit players helped decipher the structure of an AIDs-causing virus and produced an accurate 3D model of the enzyme, a problem that had eluded scientists and supercomputers for more than 10 years.
Zynga.org (http://zynga.org/) was created with the mission to use games to help those in need. This nonprofit social arm of the juggernaut game developer has helped to raise more than $7 million for charities through FarmVille 24 million users alone. Since 2009, Zynga.org has enabled millions of players to contribute nearly $20 million to more than 30 nonprofit organizations globally.
Illustrating the positive power of another incredibly popular game, the United Nations and Minecraft developer Mojang partnered to bring youths’ game-world blueprints to real-life in public works in Kenya, Sweden, and Haiti through its innovative “Block by Block” (http://www.gamesforchange.org/festival/program/pontus-westerberg-tbd/) program.
The Code Liberation Foundation (codeliberation.org) aims to change the female-to-male ratio in video game development by offering free workshops in order to facilitate the creation of video game titles by women. In 2013 alone, the organization ran over 100 hours of programming in New York City.
Social Impact Through Digital Games
Learn more about amazing projects like these & more at the 11th Annual Games For Change Festival (http://gamesforchange.org/festival/). Many of the game-making and research leaders mentioned above will present at the Festival, such as Dr. Adam Gazzaley (NeuroRacer), Zoran Popovic (Foldit), the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and more. Check out more highlights from the Festival program here. Don’t miss this special offer for Beth’s Blog readers: Get 10% off tickets with the code beth_g4c14.
Has your nonprofit embraced games for social change? How?
Meghan Ventura is responsible for cultivating the community presence of Games for Change. She previously worked with the Washington, D.C., chapter of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and urban games group DCGames, organizing events and connecting local developers. She’s worked as a writer and editor, with experience covering video games, and scientific and environmental topics.