Games 4 Change ‘08

This year’s Games 4 Change Conference was another great success, providing seasoned game designers and excited newcomers the opportunity to share experiences and knowledge. From June 2-6, participants met to discuss developments in serious gaming and critical play that will help gaming become an increasingly valuable vista of the cultural landscape. At the conference there was the sense that games in general and serious games in particular were at a tipping point; poised to become a ubiquitous part of modern living, widely valued, respected, and understood.

New for this year, the conference’s first day was a Games 101 workshop designed to give workers at non-profits an overview of serious gaming. Leading figures in the field gave short presentations on everything from the design of a game to funding one and measuring its effectiveness. During Dr. Mary Flanagan’s presentation, the VAP team distributed Grow A Game cards and participants broke into smaller groups to play with for a while. As always, the cards helped experienced and inexperienced designers loosen up and start brainstorming. They also sparked some great conversations, game concepts, and questions. At the end of the day, workshop participants had the opportunity to pitch their game ideas to professional game designers, including Mary and VAP advisory board members Tracy Fullerton from USC and Celia Pierce of Georgia Tech. You can read one positive reaction to the Grow A Game session on the Nerdy Girl blog.

On Tuesday morning Tracy moderated a panel about the Values At Play curriculum that included Celia, Mary, and two of Tracy’s students – Jamie Antonisse and Devon Johnson who developed the game Hush from a Grow A Game exercise and later won our first Better Game Contest. Tracy and Celia showed some of the unique games developed using our curriculum, many of which had never been viewed outside their classrooms.

One of Celia’s students created a game that caused ripples of laughter in the audience–both genuine, and nervous. Heroin Shooter inovolves a series of mini-games about the different steps a heroin addict takes to shoot up, and the endless futility of addiction. It’s very cute, and very disturbing to see a player eagerly trying to jab a virtual needle into her virtual arm. Everyone in the audience was also impressed by Hush; it’s definitely one of the most emotionally charged serious games yet developed. Also during the panel, Mary showed a demo of Tiltfactor’s first game Profit Seed, which deals with GMO crops and the struggles of small farmers.

After the success of Grow A Game workshop on Monday, and seeing all the great games developed with the VAP curriculum, many conference attendees were eager to get a pack of Grow A Game cards for their own. Over the course of the conference we were able to sell every pack we brought, and take contact information from people who wanted cards mailed to them. Motivated by that enthusiastic response, we’ll be setting up system for online distribution soon.

On Wednesday we had our advisory board meeting which began as a relaxed review of the previous year’s accomplishments but quickly evolved into an energetic brainstorming session about new card sets we could develop, ways to refine the curriculum for use in high schools, and other exciting possibilities for year three of the project and beyond. It’s great to feel the project developing so much momentum, and see proof that out tools and methods actually help people create innovative, expressive games. This is an exciting time for gaming–designers are only getting more creative and innovative. The Values At Play team is proud to be part of a movement that’s pushing games to be richer, more interesting, and more diverse.