The Ad Council recently spoke with Meghan Ventura, Community Manager at Games for Change. Founded in 2004, Games for Change is a nonprofit organization that facilitates the creation and distribution of social impact games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts. The Games for Change Festival is taking place this April in New York City. The Ad Council will be attending and celebrating our own games from this year including Toothsavers and Sweater Yourself. Join us there and use code g4c14-adcouncil for 10% off your tickets.
Ad Council: What is the Games for Change Festival?
Meghan Ventura: The Games for Change Festival is an annual event that takes place in New York City, and for the first time this year we’re joining the Tribeca Film Festival. The Games for Change festival provides an opportunity to connect with game creators and social change makers, and learn first-hand from leaders in this field. The Festival began 10 years ago as a small gathering of friends and colleagues, which eventually grew into the 800-person conference it is today, with thousands watching online via Livestream.
AC: Who should (or does) go?
MV: I’d like to answer with “everyone,” but to be more specific, our audience comprises the social change community (nonprofits, NGOs, social entrepreneurs), the games industry (developers, designers, publishers, etc.), funders, media, academia and educators, and government. If you’ve ever even thought about creating a game for social good, you should come out and see what’s happening in this space. And anyone who loves playing games — whether it’s Candy Crush or Call of Duty — benefits from checking out the Games for Change Public Arcade at the Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair. It’s free and open to the public, all about social good, and full of really fun digital games, as well as live street games from Come Out & Play and the game-based Quest to Learn public school for attendees to play. The Festival also facilitates a “perfect storm” to meet the right people for your next or current project. For example, Jewish Time Jump: New York, a game on Jewish-American history that was nominated in the Games for Change Awards last year, was created by an attendee who was inspired at our 2010 G4C Festival. This year there are more networking opportunities through speed networking, an opening night party, “meet the expert” events, and more. These will provide the right connections for those interested in creating social commentary games.
AC: What makes a really great game?
MV: This is a question that’s often examined at the Games for Change Festival. But to give a short answer, it’s often said that good games are about interesting choices, or presenting the player with options where their actions will have a clear effect in the game world and on their progress, and give them a sense of agency. Interesting choices make games memorable – oftentimes, when players discuss games a lot of that will center around “what did you do here?” or “I chose option x, and got this ending.” One example from the commercial game world is The Walking Dead series, which gained immense popularity around the extremely difficult decisions it presented players. Unmanned, Papers, Please, and Quandary are all recent social impact games that present strong decisions and choices. A really great game for impact is one where a game’s mechanics, or what you do in the game and how you do it, go hand-in-hand with the developers’ message. (Or subvert it entirely!) For example, Cart Life, a game about working in retail, makes you go through these rote, mundane, sometimes crushingly frustrating tasks. In the adventure game Papo & Yo, an autobiographical allegory for growing up with an alcoholic parent, players cooperate with a benevolent and friendly monster — until it eats one of the frogs that it’s addicted to and goes on a unstoppable rage that forces the player into running and hiding. (The next game from the same studio, Minority Media, will address bullying.) Spec Ops: The Line takes the war-time first-person shooter and throws the violence back in the players’ face in an unforgettable way.
AC: What are the top games out there promoting social good? And what makes them great?
MV: Other than the ones listed above, one of the most popular games listed on Games for Change’s site right now is Dumb Ways to Die, a hilarious string of mini-games designed to promote safety around public transportation. It’s short, snappy, and anyone can pick up its touch-based controls quickly. Another one is the Half the Sky suite of games (which Games for Change produced). It has had 1,000,000 players, raised over half a million dollars for targeted causes, and has been shown in rigorous studies to help players, here and in developing nations, make better choices about health. Increasingly, we also see games from independent game makers who — while not necessarily purposefully designing a game “for change” — make games about real-world issues or more mature subjects not typically discussed in mainstream commercial games. And we see massively popular commercial games like FarmVille 2 (which will be featured at the Games for Change Public Arcade on April 26), which leverage their success to do enormous good in the world.
AC: What’s an amazing success story you’ve witnessed from Games for Change?
MV: Two developers from the 2013 Games for Change Awards had their games published on the PC-based distribution platform Steam: Lucas Pope (nominated for The Republia Times, and creator of Papers, Please) and Filament Games created the plant biology game and Best Gameplay Award-winner Reach for the Sun.
AC: What has surprised you the most at G4C?
MV: While more people are accepting that there can be games that are on the same level as documentaries in film, many still don’t realize that games are already doing a lot that go beyond entertainment and for positive social impact. Games are certainly gaining more recognition as a medium for social good (we’ve seen quite a few articles on “empathy games” in the past year), but sometimes we’re a little too impatient for these game makers to receive wide public recognition. We hope as key figures in the games industry continue to push for a wider diversity in games (Nintendo just credited diversity as a key component to the success of one of its best-selling games last year) that games will be viewed as the more worldly and positive medium that they often already are.
The Games for Change Festival is taking place April 22nd-26th in New York City. Use code g4c14-adcouncil for 10% off your tickets.