social impact

Recap of G4C18 Festival and XR4C Summit

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15 years celebrating the impact of games!
 
It’s a wrap! This year’s 15th annual Games for Change Festival was a major success! We hosted over 1000 attendees with many of them coming from countries around the world. The 3 day event kicked off with the proclamation from Mayor Bill DeBlasio that Thursday, June 28th was officially Games for Change Day. We were fortunate to have Deputy Commissioner Kai Falkenberg to give the award to founders Barry Joseph, Suzanne Seggarman, Benjamin Stokes, G4C’s chairman Asi Burak and G4C’s president Susanna Pollack. We are so proud to see G4C’s diverse community grow and to be a platform where everyone can join forces to discuss and build impactful projects together.
 

 
We would like to send a special thank you to Matt Parker, Alexander King, the Institute of Play and Ryan Seashore for curating the different tracks and providing such insightful programs and sessions to the G4C and XR4C communities.
 
From the XR Brain Jam to the speed networking and Meet the Funders sessions, we saw so many people meeting each other and forging new partnerships. We hope you keep in touch throughout the year and let us know about the amazing work that is born out of this gathering.
 
Meanwhile, take a look at the Festival and XR for Change Summit photos on our Flickr account and share away with your networks and friends. Also don’t forget to subscribe to our Youtube channel to be notified when the Festival videos are uploaded.

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See photos on Flickr here

 
XR for Change Summit — join the XR4C community
 
Our second XR for Change Summit featured over 13 immersive experiences presented by Microsoft, UNICEF, Oculus VR for Good, Conservation International, Emblematic Group, Sundance Institute, Stanford University, Columbia University and many other leading content creators. We are excited to see what impactful XR projects NGO’s, technologists and game studios continue to produce to tackle social issues.
 
We are very excited to grow the XR for Change community and we continue to look for ways we can add value to the people pioneering this space. Join the ever-expanding #XR4C community to be part of our year round programs such as the XR for Change Talk and Play. Sign-up to our newsletter and follow us on social media to learn on how to get involved. If you are interested in partnering or supporting any of the XR for Change programs, please send us an e-mail on [email protected]

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Round of applause and congratulations to the G4C Award winners and nominees!
 
Congratulations to all the winners of the G4C Awards, specially Life Is Strange: Before The Storm for winning Most Significant Impact and Game of the Year. A special shout-out to tech ethicist David Ryan Polgar for making us laugh hard and emceeing the G4C Awards. Here are the 2018 winners:
 
Game of the Year & Most Significant Impact awards
Life Is Strange: Before the Storm: In this choice-based narrative prequel, players see the world through the mind of Chloe Price, a 16 year-old rebel whose self-destructive lifestyle threatens her relationships and well-being. At the helm of this angsty and emotionally powerful protagonist, the player must navigate Chloe’s life decisions when an unexpected friendship throws everything off-kilter.
 
Best Gameplay Award
What Remains of Edith Finch: Set in the home of “America’s most unfortunate family,” this immersive and unsettling first-person narrative drama delves into hereditary issues. As Edith, players explore the colossal Finch family estate on a quest to discover why she’s the last one alive in her family.
 
Most Innovative Award
Tree: Through virtual-reality, players are transformed into a majestic rainforest tree. With arms as branches and their body as a trunk, players experience firsthand nature’s life cycle, starting as a seedling in the ground to seeing the view at the top of the canopy, and humanity’s ecological footprint.
 
Best Learning Game Award
Attentat 1942: Using cinematic-style interviews with survivors, interactive comics and historical footage, this dialogue-based game places players in the center of Nazi occupation during World War II. Players speak to eyewitnesses, live their memories and uncover compelling details of one family’s story.
 
Polygon x Games for Change People’s Choice Award
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice : Made in collaboration with neuroscientists and personal accounts of psychosis, this action-adventure hybrid pulls the player deep into the mind of Senua, a broken Celtic warrior fighting for the soul of her dead lover. As Senua, the player wrestles with mental illness and the rationalization of the incomprehensible to progress.
 
Vanguard Award
Katie Salen, founder of the Institute of Play, was awarded the Vanguard Award for her inspiring contributions to the field of play based learning and advancing the games for change community.
 

Here’s what G4C’s friends are up to

Join G4C at the Game Devs of Color Expo, taking place July 14th from 11 am – 6 pm at The Schomburg Center. The Game Devs of Color Expo is an inclusive games expo and conference that features creators from across a spectrum of backgrounds showing off their games, building culture, and pushing games forward as an artform. Get your tickets for as little as $20, $5, or for free here.

Be part of Playcrafting’s Play NYC on the weekend of August 11th and 12th at The Manhattan Center. Play NYC will feature over 90 games and 85 game developer studios showcasing the best in indie video games and VR. Don’t miss the interactive playground for all ages and buy your tickets here.

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How Games and VR Frame Refugee Issues

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Carne y Arena – Alejandro González Iñárritu © Legendary
 
Darfur is Dying and Food Force
 
In 2006, I visited the G4C Festival for the first time. In a break-out session, I initiated a conversation on games as a documentary medium. Drawing from the poetics of documentary, we discussed how docu-games mix ‘documenting’ and ‘fictionalizing’ elements to make Games for Change more attractive and persuasive for a game- playing audience (see my article ‘Reality Play,’ available on the G4C Resource Center website). At the Games Expo, I saw Susana Ruiz present Darfur is Dying (2006), a Flash-based browser game about the crisis in Darfur, western Sudan. Ruiz has stated that the game design was influenced by that of Food Force (2005), a game published by the United Nations World Food Program.
 
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of both Darfur is Dying and Food Force for the development of the field of Games for Change. In a study initiated by G4C − Impact with games: A fragmented field (2016, see GameImpact.net) – the authors refer in a rather implicit way to both games: “Some of the big early examples came from surprising places, including student games launched by MTV [Darfur is Dying, JR] and passion projects from the UN World Food Program [Food Force, JR].” In 2010, I published my research on both games in a chapter called ‘A Taste of Life as a Refugee: How Serious Games Frame Refugee Issues,’ which is also available on G4C’s Resource Center website.
 

 
A Taste of Life as a Refugee
 
In this chapter, I examined how Darfur is Dying and Food Force frame refugee issues in ways that are medium specific. The starting point of my investigation was the conceptual framework of cognitive scientist and linguist George Lakoff, who theorizes the cognitive dimensions of politics. In order to increase our understanding of how both games frame political issues, I approached them from a ‘family values’ perspective. Contemporary American political discourse – maybe now more than ever − is divided between two different models of the family: a strict-father family model and a nurturant-parent family model. The democrat Lakoff favors a foreign policy based upon nurturant parent values, such as protection from harm, community building, caring, and responsibility. His descriptions of these values echo the goals of both games, I concluded.
 
In the second part of the chapter, I analyzed in more detail how both Food Force and Darfur is Dying involve players in these nurturant parent values in a medium-specific way. As a starting point, I took the definition of a computer game as developed by Jesper Juul. The basic rules of both Darfur is Dying and Food Force turned out to be clearly ideologically motivated ones: players can only win the games by supporting Darfuri civilians, or by completing six missions and, in doing so, helping to fight hunger. But I also argued that computer games are never unambiguous or one-way traffic. Games – like all media texts – are polysemic and, therefore, open to multiple readings. I showed that most players interpreted the game more or less according to the encoded ‘nurturant parent’ frames. But my research also made clear that some players criticized or denied the importance of the values incorporated in the two games.
 
Life as a Refugee: Games for Change
 
During my sabbatical year at the NYU Game Center (2017-2018), I – once again – did research on refugee and migration games, and on their shared goal to make a difference on an individual and community level, or even to influence society. Our engagement with this topic is now needed more than ever, given the political situation in both the U.S. and Europe. In the last few years, these games have encouraged support, sympathy, and action for a variety of migration and refugee issues: providing refugee children with game-based education (Project Hope), investigating the causes and effects of migrant deaths along the Arizona-Mexican border (The Migrant Trail), raising awareness about the complexity and risks of the refugee experience (Against All Odds), critiquing ever-increasing rules and paperwork for immigrants (Papers, Please), and providing immersive virtual-reality and role-playing accounts of the horrors faced by immigrants and refugees (A Breathtaking Journey, Carne Y Arena, A Day in the Life of a Refugee).
 
My research draws inspiration from game studies and political theory, and analyzes how migration and refugee games oppose today’s politics of fear by presenting optimism as a duty. I presented my research at a conference at Columbia University, under the title ‘Life as a Refugee: Games for Change’ 
 

Carne y Arena – Alejandro González Iñárritu © Legendary
 
At this very moment, I’m writing an article about the VR installation Carne y Arena (2017) by the Academy Award-winning Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Based on true accounts by Central American and Mexican migrants – which is why it is called ‘a semi-fictionalized ethnography’ – Carne y Arena is a six and a half minute solo experience that allows viewers to thoroughly live through a fragment of the refugees’ personal journeys, basically their (and partly your own) confrontation with the U.S. Border Patrol.
 
I was able to visit the experience three times in Washington DC, to talk to local partners (the Phillips Collection and the Atlas Performing Arts Center), and interview people from the Emerson Collective, and Iñárritu’s producer. In my opinion, Carne y Arena is the best VR installation available in the field of VR for Change. While most other VR experiences struggle with the limitations of the medium – because of a lack of understanding of the possibilities of VR, a lack of financial resources, or both – Iñárritu and his crew have set a new standard for VR for Change.
 
Four elements seem crucial for Carne y Arena’s success. First, the real VR experience is enfolded by a prologue (the viewer is immersed in a waiting room, a kind of holding cell where refugees are kept at) and an epilogue (the viewer is in a room where you can read the actual stories of their lives), enabling you to gradually enter and withdraw from the state of fiction you’re in during the immersive experience. Both the prologue and epilogue also provide you with the refugee’s context and background details. Second, the way Iñárritu breaks with the film frame enables you not only to choose where and when to look, but also to choose the position from where you look at the events that take place in the virtual 360° space of the desert. You can hide behind the bushes, choose the side of the border patrol agents, or decide to (virtually) help a refugee mother and child. This makes Carne y Arena a multi-narrative space. Third, by alternating the perspectives between ‘visitor’ and ‘participant,’ Iñárritu ensures that your experience is neither too stressful nor too detached: the most important condition for an empathetic experience to take place. Fourth, this ‘virtual’ reality project is turned into a multi-sensorial and bodily experience of being in the shoes of a refugee. ”The body never lies,” according to Iñárritu. And that’s the way it is felt in this immersive experience…
 
Joost Raessens is chair of Media Theory and director of the Utrecht Center for Game Research, both at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. [email protected]; www.raessens.nl; www.gameresearch.nl.
 
You can visit Carne y Arena in Washington DC and Amsterdam, the Netherlands
 
For more information about Carne y Arena:
–Interview Iñárritu by LACMA director Michael Govan
–Interview Iñárritu on Art and Technology at the Phillips Collection, Washington DC
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Game to Grow: Esports as a Learning Platform

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The new North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) started as a regional league in Southern California and quickly garnered the enthusiastic support of teachers and administrators – and also drew in a subset of students that typically are not otherwise engaged in school.
 
Anthony Saba is Head of School at Samueli Academy, a public charter high school with two teams. He said, “Kids are going to game anyway, so creating a healthy atmosphere with academic accountability is a good thing. Research demonstrates a strong alignment between competitive engagement and in-school academics.”
 
In NASEF, coaching on game skills and team dynamics is provided by qualified near-peer mentors. Workshops offer in-depth training on topics like following a code of conduct, building a PC, shoutcasting, and analyzing gameplay.
 
Dr. Mimi Ito, Professor of Cultural Anthropology at UC Irvine, researches how young people engage with digital technology. “Esports provides a way for young people to hang out with their friends in a really active and positive way,” she said. She recognizes the amount of work it takes to get good at games like League of Legends (one of the platforms used by NASEF). “Students are engaged in 21st century skills and problem-solving, and they’re understanding how to connect their own problem-solving with a whole community of players.”

The ability to think creatively to solve problems and to work collaboratively and productively with a team will equip students for evolving careers in all STEM fields (not just those related to gaming).
“The League has been carefully constructed with an academic framework incorporating STEM, ELA, and social emotional learning, as well as Career Technical Education,” said Constance Steinkuehler, professor of informatics at UC Irvine, and leader of curriculum development and related research.
Through the spring 2018 season of the Orange County High School Esports League™, Steinkuehler and a team from UC Irvine evaluated existing and potential alignments between organized esports and school subjects, as well as social emotional learning. Early results demonstrate that students playing in this League developed individual emotional regulation, built good sportsmanship through teachable moments, and were motivated to attend class more and to focus more on homework.
 
NASEF has developed a new high school English Language Arts curriculum that leverages esports for interest-driven learning that relates education to the real world. “This is not a simple esports league that gives a nod to educational benefits,” said Steinkuehler. “Scholastic benefits are at the heart of the North America Scholastic Esports Federation. Kids not only love it – they’re becoming more engaged and better educated as a result of participating. Now that’s using gaming to grow!”
 
Specific questions can be directed to League leadership, and you can learn more about the League at esportsfed.org.
 
If you’re attending the Games for Change Festival, be sure to attend the panel discussion Game to Grow: How Esports Can Shape Student Success on Friday June 29.
* For video resources click here.
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