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Let The Games Begin: A 101 Workshop for Social Issue Games

Games for Change has responded to the HASTAC/MacArthur Digital Media & Learning Competition survey report. This is an invitation to share progress with the wider community, creating a public learning experience in lieu of a formal grant progress report. Please read on to learn about the exciting happenings underway at Games for Change...

1. What are you most excited about accomplishing so far as a HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition winner? How has winning this award helped your project accomplish this goal?

Let The Games Begin: A 101 Workshop for Making Social Issue Games held on June 2nd, at the start of the 2008 Fifth Annual Games for Change Festival was an extraordinary success - beyond our expectations. We reached our maximum capacity of 150 individuals from non-profit, academic, and public interest organizations who came from around the world—including India and South Korea. The list of organizations was diverse and impressive, and included representatives from the US Holocaust Museum, Asia Society, WGBH, Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, Witness, the New York Times, OSI, Ford and Case Foundations, as well as a new think tank coming out of Rockstar Games (the creators of Grand Theft Auto.)

The workshop presenters included many of the top experts from the field, including Eric Zimmerman (CEO Game Lab), Katie Salen (Institute of Play), Tracy Fullerton and Chris Swain (Co-Directors of USC’s EA Game Innovation Lab), Celia Pearce (Georgia Tech), Mary Flanagan (Titlfactor Lab), Alan Gershenfeld (Managing Partner, E-Line Ventures), Heather Chaplin (journalist, NPR, New YorkTimes), as well as other speakers from the main festival including Richard LeMarchand of Naughty Dog Studios (lead designer on Lara Croft Tomb Raider) and Robert Nashak (VP, Electronic Arts).

The response to the day was uniformly excellent. Survey feedback, which included many detailed comments, was overwhelmingly positive with more than 96% rating the quality of the day as “Very Good” or “Outstanding.” We were extremely effective at reaching our target audience of non-profits new to the field, with 93% of participants identifying themselves as beginner (63%) or intermediate (30%).

Here are some representative comments:

“The workshop was very helpful--and aimed at just the right level for the needs of my organization (newbies to the gaming world). We are thinking about creating a game, and I could not have imagined a better mix of practical and theoretical information at this stage. I was amazed at how much was covered in the course of the day.”

“The formal presentations and the opportunity to speak with people with a range of experience really helped clarify how to think about the outcomes and structure when developing a game, clarifying the path of development.”

“I really appreciated your attitude and the tremendous preparation you had done for the workshop. Also, it was refreshing that you didn't only address video games, but board, card, etc....that helps with us entertaining the less expensive possibilities.”

Even the presenters found it productive:

“As a speaker at the 101 Games4Change workshop I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was really pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of foundations and non-profits that showed up, the range and quality of speakers and the amount of time allowed for real interaction between the game-makers and foundations/non-profits. Through the break-out sessions and Value at Play workshop I ended up making connections that may well evolve into full-fledged partnerships and projects.”

And we also got some excellent feedback from our community for future workshops, which we plan to do every year:

“I left the workshop feeling well supported by Games for Change. We could use help identifying funders who are interested in helping non-profits develop educational games.”

“It would have been useful to have a presentation(s) about the pitfalls of game development, where problems can arise, where one might sink money without great gain.”

“Also, while our organization knows that technology is important for our Club members, they don't quite "get it" so there's a cultural learning curve that needs to occur before resources are allocated to a technology curriculum project (outside of the "computer courses" that are already funded).”

There were also some unexpected ways the workshop was helpful to participants:

“We've done some efforts in the past and are interested in moving forward with game creation. The issue, of course, is resources. However, I'm better prepared as a result of this workshop to help those in the organization who do develop resources for their programs and that have a technology component.”

Ninety-three percent of respondents to our follow up survey reported that they would be more likely to create a game after this workshop—a gratifying indication that this project will help inspire the creation of new social issue games.

This grant enabled us to address a fundamental and crucial part of our mission for the first time in a professional and powerful way: reaching non-profits new to the field and educating them about the incredible potential of games in addressing serious social issues. The imprimatur of the MacArthur Foundation, as well as the funding itself, enabled us to do many things:

1. Invite and pay for the very best experts in the field to present
2. Allow non-profits to come for free; most game events are prohibitive for non-profits because the cost is so high
3. Attract high-impact non-profits and foundations

The award also had an important outcome in the participation of a new sponsor and funder in this space—the AMD Foundation. AMD support is enabling us to extend the life of this workshop and online network through the creation of comprehensive toolkit based on the event. “Let the Games Begin: A 101 ToolKit for Making Social Issue Games,” due out in October 2008, is a multimedia tutorial comprised of the many expert presentations featured at the 101 Workshop, as well as supplementary material gathered from other field leaders. The overall goal of the kit is to provide a practical orientation showing the steps and resources that are necessary to make a successful game. Produced for distribution on DVD and via the web, the kit incorporates video presentations from the “Let the Games Begin Workshop,” supporting materials, game examples, and valuable resource links.

2. What are your goals for the next three months?

Over the next three months, we are fully launching and expanding the social networking site associated with this workshop. Currently in alpha, CampG4C is a project-oriented social network for the social issue games community, with a core audience arising from Let the Games Begin: A 101 Workshop for Social Issue Games. Aimed primarily at non-profits, academic, government agencies, and game developers, its goals are to link these diverse groups through game development projects, provide a hub for knowledge exchange and collaboration, and to support and expand the emerging field of social issue games.

August is dedicated to alpha testing, working closely with our PETLab partner and director Colleen Macklin, and her team of game design students and faculty from Parsons The New School. In September, beta functionality specifications will be compiled, prioritized, approved, and put into development. The network will also be launched to the 101 Workshop participants, who will begin to enter projects from the 101 Workshop, as well as independently initiated projects. Throughout the fall, we have planned a series of online events, including viewing and feedback of the projects by the experts from the 101 workshop, and “G4C Genres Jams” where projects within specific game categories will be initiated and reviewed.

By November 1, Camp G4C will be a fully functioning hub for the 101 community, and will serve as a model for other communities interested in a collaborative project-based social network.

Participants have written to us and thanked us for the day – they have also let us know that they have already begun work on creating social issue games. We look forward to seeing those ideas come to fruition through CampG4C and the extended G4C community. It became clear to us after this day’s success, that the event will become a core part of our programming; it will enable to help us achieve a key part of our mission: to educate and empower non-profits and educational institutions to better understand the power of video games to address social issues, and to engage them in the initial process of making them.


3. Is there any kind of assistance, advice, PR, communications, networking, or any other kind of support from fellow Digital Media and Learning Competition winners or HASTAC staff that could help you with your project in any way?

Games for Change would like to invite any grantees who are working on social issues game projects to join the Camp G4C network, participate in the community and provide feedback. We would also appreciate feedback on the Camp G4C site from any grantees that are working on other social networking projects.

We would also be interested in PR assistance from HASTAC and the DML community soon after their beta launch of the CampG4C network. This help would be in the form of blog entries on DML community members’ websites highlighting and linking back to the CampG4C network. We will also look forward to spreading the word through that community about the next 101 Workshop to take place next June as part of our 2009 6th Annual Festival.

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