Video Games for Change

Increasingly, video games are being seen less as brain-numbing exercises in distraction and more as potent tools for positive social, personal and political change.

| September/October 2012

  • Way Still
    This year’s “Game of the Year” winner, “WAY,” developed by LA-based Chris Bell, looks like a variation of “Super Mario Bros.,” with players guiding cute, ethnically dressed avatars through worlds filled with various obstacles.

  • Way Still

Increasingly, video games are being seen less as brain-numbing exercises in distraction and more as potent tools for positive social, personal and political change.

“We are using a very popular medium to realize a more sustainable, more just global society,” says Michelle Byrd, co-president of Games for Change (a.k.a. G4C), a nonprofit organization whose ninth annual New York Summer Festival recently highlighted the latest trends in gaming for good.

With video games devoted to everything from the 2010 Haiti Earthquake to political deception to “Zombie Yoga,” the 2012 G4C conference brought together some 800 game designers, developers, executives, academics, researchers, and NGO leaders to discover and discuss the potential of software (and reality-based gaming systems) to change our lives for the better. They also blew off some steam playing Dance Central 2 at an opening night party.

While G4C isn’t a game developer’s conference, several industry bigwigs delivered keynote speeches this year, from Atari founder Nolan Bushnell to Lucy Bradshaw, general manager of Maxis, publisher of The Sims and SimCity. For Byrd, this represents a crucial tipping point for social-action games, moving from the free educational space to the mainstream commercial sector. “If you’re trying to educate the masses, you can’t ignore the power of big games,” says Byrd.

One of this year’s most significant announcements, for example, was the launch of Teach with Portals from the Valve Corporation (known for its first-person shooter games Half-Life and Counter-Strike). Based on their popular puzzle game Portal 2, the program is made up of lesson plans created by educators, as well as an interactive component for teachers to exchange ideas.

The educational value of video games is a primary motivator for those in the field. Bushnell, the man behind Pac-Man and Pitfall!, is applying what he’s learned to a new generation of teaching tools. “Passive teaching is ineffectual,” he told attendees. “We are active learners.” The Atari founder’s new company Brainrush claims to teach academic subjects 10 times faster than conventional lesson plans, with over 90 percent retention rates.

5/28/2013 2:57:10 AM

hmmm, does the gamer suggest i stop freaking welding 3d vertices in non rational uniform basis space curves and instead apply known physical equations to animate low poly renderings of simple machines? problem with technology is limits and the places below the curve. in my instance, its no wonder which button i usually push first.

Pay Now Save $5!

Utne Summer 2016Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $40.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $45 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!

Facebook Instagram Twitter

click me