XR for Change

Games for Change in Bahrain: Developing an XR Arcade for SDGs

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Games for Change curated a United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) focused XR Arcade in Bahrain last week at the 2018 Youthfull Festival. The conference was organized by the Bahrain Ministry of Youth & Sport Affairs, and was held October 21-25, 2018. Attendees included youth leaders from across the world working to promote sustainable development in their communities. We were excited to have met young leaders from Kenya, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Colombia, USA, The Netherlands, Serbia, and many other countries.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015. The SDGs are a call for action by all countries to promote prosperity while protecting the environment. They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests. Learn more about the goals here.

After the success of the Immersive Arcade at the XR for Change Summit during the G4C Festival in New York in June 2018, G4C is now curating many XR arcades featuring experiences and installations on positive social impact and global issues. This Festival was a perfect opportunity to curate a UN SDG focused arcade with an experience on each goal. The G4C team had only a few weeks to curate experiences that matched each goal, were suitable for a young, global audience, and free to show at a public event. We were able to find an XR experience for each goal thanks to the support of Oculus VR for Good; Participant Media; UNVR; UN Foundation, charity: water; MSF/DWB; and Within.

From the beginning, we had a goal to show a wide variety of experiences shot in various parts of the world. Ground Beneath Her (Goal 1 – No Poverty), produced by UNDP took the viewer to Nepal to shadow a 14 year old girl balancing school and work in post-earthquake Nepal. Goal 7: Affordable & Clean Energy was showcased by Amor de Abuela (A Grandmother’s Love), an Oculus VR for Good experience made in partnership with the Global BrightLight Foundation and Jessie Hughes, which takes the viewer to Guatemala where a family’s life is transformed after their grandmother gains access to electricity.

One SDG that was a bit tough to pick an experience for was Goal 9: Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure. However, we were lucky enough to come across The Possible: Hello, Robot by David Gelb via Within. This rare look inside the Boston Dynamics robotics lab proved to be very popular, especially among younger audiences. One XR docent described the piece as unique in its vision for tomorrow when juxtaposed with many of the other experiences in the Arcade which mostly concerned themselves with the various developmental issues of today.
The Arcade was a very popular part of the Youthfull Festival, even amongst the incredible variety of experiential offerings throughout the event. There were interactive booths with various inventions by local youth; talks and panels on the SDGs by reputed business and innovation leaders; Model United Nations sessions; soccer matches; and of course, a diverse collection of delicious food trucks with international and local cuisine. In addition to the global youth leaders and students from across Bahrain, we were also visited by ministers from Bahrain and UAE who stressed the importance of using new and emerging technologies to educate and inspire the youth.  

We are extremely grateful to have been invited to the event and were so impressed with the hospitality, kindness and excitement we were greeted with in Bahrain. A special thank you to the organizing team of the Festival, as well as the Ministry of Youth & Sport Affairs, and the fantastic team at VR Solutions (Arcade) in Bahrain.
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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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⏰ 1 Week Left to Purchase Tickets for #G4C18 ⏰

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The Games for Change Festival is only 1 week away!

Register now to snag the last few spots in reserved sessions and a ticket to AU & HEVGA’s networking happy hour. 

Join AU & HEVGA’s Happy Hour
Receive an invitation to join #G4C18’s Happy Hour with American University Game Lab, Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA) and theEntertainment Software Association (ESA) on Friday, June 29th after purchasing a ticket to the Festival. Make sure to register to receive your Happy Hour invite!


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