Games for Change in NYC

Today and tomorrow I’m in New York City at the yearly Games for Change Festival, which is all about how to design (video) games that also have a purpose or socially meaningful message.

So far I have been underwhelmed by the overemphasis on things like Second Life. There were several sessions today which either focussed on or mentioned how Second life could be used to support things like non-profits or social activism in the real world. I can’t help but be extremely skeptical of such claims, which seem more driven by technolust than any concrete reason that a 3D interactive platform would be better for these tasks (i.e. community building, information dissemination) than say a simple 2D webpage. Why do non-profits need space in Second Life? If anything it’s for marketing / awareness but ultimately it’s only reaching out to the geeks who self select into Second Life anyway. Seems like the non-profits should be using their grant money for real activism.

Later in the afternoon I was more impressed with the engaging lectures by both Eric Zimmerman and Clive Thompson. They were a good balance for each other with Eric (a seasoned game designer and theorist) stressing the theory of systems and game design as important for serious games and Clive (a journalist for the NYTimes and Wired) running through a laundry list of very simplistic “serious” games which challenged the need for the arduous design and construction of games. Perhaps the quick and dirty games which are apropos to current events and which make their message clearly and simply are a better approach toward poking at serious issues? Both speakers stressed the need to consider games as a unique medium with unique qualities and abilities to show / teach process through interaction. While I do think that games are a unique medium, I think that in the real-world, considering the theme of this particular conference it’s important to take a trans-media perspective to get your message across. If by putting “data” into games as well as process you might get a hybrid game using other content. But as long as it’s still engaging and fun, how can that be bad?

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