At SXSW, we caught up with Kellian Adams, Founder and “Mastermind” of Green Door Labs about how to “game for good.”
Ad Council: Let’s start with the basics. If you’re a nonprofit, why game?
Kellian Adams: Games are a great way to have a conversation about really difficult issues. It opens up the door to a conversation and offers a low barrier for entry. Games can be really helpful when you want to engage someone about hunger, adoption, homelessness, mental illness—issues people don’t want to talk about it or feel uncomfortable discussing.
AC: At SxSW, the “Gaming for Good” panel panned online quizzes. Why?
KA: Quizzes are good for assessing someone’s current knowledge about something. But they aren’t the best tool for teaching something. Quizzes have a hard stop: If you want to teach someone about homelessness and you ask “What percentage do you think are homeless at any given time?” That approach doesn’t give someone any time to spend on that idea. Rather, you could ask, “If you were homeless, what would you do?” You want to help people understand a homeless person’s challenges—put them in their shoes. So, instead of a quiz, could you encourage role play? Quizzes about facts and statistics just help people tune out.
AC: What are some best practices when creating games?
KA: Have clear goals before you get started. Good goals are specific, granular, testable, and repeatable. Bad goals are things like “let’s make learning fun!” or “let’s engage 18-31 years olds!” You don’t want goals that are vague, wordy, hard to pin down with no way to test.
Also, when starting out, stay small. Try creating one game with a single player, use 2d graphics (cuts down your production/budget) and focus on one distribution platform. If you can, get someone on board who’s done it before. There will be a lot of bumps along the way, so grab someone who’s learned from their mistakes. Creating a game that works for your organization may take a few times.
AC: Any good online resources for nonprofits who want to learn more?
AC: When people think of gaming, they often think “that’s for kids”—not for my issue or organization.
KA: My advice is not to be so literal. At its core, gaming is about eliciting a response—that is, the user has to respond somehow. For example, maybe I’m offering up an interactive movie and you have to choose the ending. Or maybe it’s about taking a test, where you have to answer a series of questions. One of the Smithsonian’s favorite games is to take close-up pictures of their artifacts on display and let people guess what they are. Comedy Central’s @Midnight is doing an amazing job of Twitter games right now with “Hashtag wars” where Twitter users weigh in with their own jokes. “Gaming” is really about creating arbitrary rules. What we’re building today—they’re called games—but one day we’ll call it something like “playful design” or “transmedia storytelling.”
AC: What are your favorite nonprofit games?
KA: My absolute favorite? SPENT—it was created by a North Carolina-based nonprofit and it’s a game about surviving poverty. It’s been played by millions of people in hundreds of countries. It starts with the question “You’d never need help, right?” and challenges you to see if you can live on the minimum wage. You have to make all sorts of choices—for your job, do you wait tables? Work at a factory?
Stay tuned for the second half of our interview with Kellian where you’ll learn more about when it’s time for an organization to consider building a game, and more best practices on how to get started.