Help us build the social impact games field

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I’m excited to share Impact with Games, a new project to get at the big picture. With this report series, we seek better ways to describe and define the impact of increasingly diverse games — for funders, designers and makers, and cause-driven organizations. We feel we could better connect designers and researchers, help introduce more transparent guidelines for some funding opportunities, and agree together on how to measure and define success.

G4C seems like an ideal place — across many networks and disciplines — to host this broad conversation. We would like to begin with our first draft report, A Fragmented Field. We’re not only reviewing existing literature and interviewing industry experts, but most importantly, we’d like to ask you for feedback that will inform our next steps and a more inclusive framework.

Who are we?
The collective “we” of the project includes G4C, an advisory board (chaired by Benjamin Stokes alongside game researchers and designers Tracy Fullerton, Constance Steinkuehler, and Debra Lieberman), with researchers at the Michael Cohen Group led by Gerad O’Shea. For more, see our full team and discussion collaborators.

Why now?
We are motivated — and troubled — by a confluence of factors. There are increasing demands to “prove” that games have impact, and we predict these will only grow. Inconsistent impact claims are marginalizing some games and some game developers. Too many great developers and researchers are mistaking their own tools with being “the only tools” or mistaking the impact they measure with being “the best kind of impact.” Among the discord, some game developers have begun to reject impact claims entirely.

We fear the gulf between research and practice is growing as silos begin to deepen. We are missing a shared language of impact — many terms are unwittingly divisive, and their power elevates one kind of game while undermining another. All sides must come together: If developers refuse to model impact, or if researchers undermine the beauty and art of games, we will not succeed as a field.

Initial findings
In our research and interviews, we found that it’s not just beginners, but our leading journals and game awards often overlook entire categories of impact inadvertently. For example, we tend to focus on gains for individuals, rather than measuring community-level change. We often disagree on what counts as evidence — and what constitutes success.

This report makes five basic claims about fragmentation that we need to address as a field, specifically:

  1. Impact is defined too narrowly: When impact is defined too narrowly, some games are dismissed for the wrong reasons, and their impact is overlooked.
  2. Key terms are politicized: When stakeholders use core terms (like “game” and “assessment”) polemically, productive debate often breaks down as the community becomes polarized.
  3. Evaluation methods are inflexible: When researchers have just one gold standard for evaluating games, honest inquiry into complex games is undermined and design becomes more siloed and rigid.
  4. Applicants are confused by calls for funding and awards: When organizations advertise a call for proposals, new applicants are often confused about the categories and debate is harmed by a premature (and unintended) sense of consensus.
  5. Typologies are deep but not connected: When experts summarize the field, they must draw boundaries, but consumers of research need ways to connect various frameworks, literature reviews, and typologies.

G4C Festival
At the 2015 Games for Change Festival, Impact With Games advisory board chair Benjamin Stokes introduced the report at the Optimizing for Impact and Creativity panel.


Want to help?
Following our soft launch, we want to hear from you and your colleagues in the community.
Read the full draft report here and send us your thoughts.

Not sure where to start? We’d love to hear your responses to any of these questions:

  • Do you agree that our field risks defining “impact” too narrowly? What costs have you seen to this?
  • Is there a “secondary impact” (see page 16 of the report) to your game from another sector?
  • What sectors could learn from each other — including health, education and social movement organizing?
  • Have you witnessed debates about what makes a legitimate “game” or whether all games must be “evidence-based”? If so, how has it affected you?
  • Where have you seen “healthy debate” that avoids polarization, but still talks deeply about quality and impact? Any tips for the field on how to do this?
  • Do you have favorite calls for funding or awards that were open-minded yet still pointed applicants to emerging research in the field? Is this even possible?

We look forward to hearing from you! Please pass this along if you know of someone who should be weighing in on the draft report.

Thanks so much,

Asi Burak
Games for Change president,
on behalf of the Impact With Games team

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Enter the UBS Optimus Foundation’s
$20K Wash Away Mobile Game Challenge

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In the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, five phones exist for every two toilets. Even in areas without toilets, a lack of understanding about proper use has led to 60 percent of the population practicing open defecation. This practice is so commonplace that most alternatives are widely rejected and are even seen as unnatural.

In response to this, the UBS Optimus Foundation has launched the WASH Away Mobile Game Challenge. This challenge asks designers to present their ideas for a Java or smartphone game that can educate 5-to-14-year-old children about better hygiene practices including:

  • Negatives associated with open defecation
  • Correct toilet usage
  • Toilet cleanliness and maintenance

The winning design will be rewarded up to $20,000, with up to a $200,000 potential investment to bring the design into reality. Learn more about the game’s requirements and enter your design before June 19 here.

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Watch the Games for Learning Summit on Livestream (April 21)

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Watch the summit on Livestream on April 21

The U.S. Department of Education (DoED) and Games for Change, with the support of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) will host on April 21 the first-ever Games for Learning Summit where commercial game developers, publishers, expert educators, students, government officials, and other stakeholders will identify strategies for the broader creation and use of high-quality video games in the classroom and beyond.

The summit is in direct response to President Barack Obama’s ConnectED, an initiative that aims to empower educators with the best technology and digital content to enrich the learning experience for students.

Summit attendees will work together in breakout sessions covering topics such as: a review of history games from the makers of Assassin’s Creed franchise and Valiant Hearts (Ubisoft); new STEM frontiers with NASA, Rovio, and EyeWire; distributing games to students with the DoED, Edmodo, BrainPOP, iCivics, and Fingerprint; scaling up sandbox-style play with educators and developers for Minecraft; and more.

While the first summit is already at maximum capacity, you can tune in on Livestream to watch the plenary talks and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #G4L15. At the Games for Change Festival that day? No worries, you won’t miss a thing — after the summit, keep an eye out for videos, interviews with speakers, and full recaps of the event.

Livestream opportunities:

Morning Sessions (starting at 9 a.m. EST)

  • Opening Remarks: Richard Culatta (U.S. DoED, director, Office of Ed Tech)
  • Keynotes: Rafranz Davis (instructional technologist and educator) and Jesse Schell (Schell Games)
  • Industry Chat: Michael D. Gallagher (president and CEO, ESA) and Constance Steinkuehler (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
  • Keynote: Joseph South (U.S. DoED)

Afternoon Sessions (starting at 1:30 p.m. EST)

  • Keynote: Paul Cross (director of game design, Ubisoft Studio SF)
  • Keynote: Jeff Hemenway (VP of Americas, Unity)
  • Games for Learning Plenary Panel: Jessica Lindl (GlassLab Games), Richard Culatta (DoED), Alan Gershenfeld (E-Line Media), Ken Weber (Zynga.org), Greg Toppo (USA Today)
  • U.S. DoED Initiatives and Capstone Remarks

 


 
It’s not too late! Limited G4C Festival passes available

The Games for Change Festival is only a week away! Register to save your spot.

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G4C Festival: Less than 48 hours to register // Live games to play

 
All pass prices go up for late registration after Friday, April 10, 11:59 p.m. EST. Register and save now.
 
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Sign up for the Senate Immersion Module (SIM)

Join 99 other players in negotiating, debating, and collaborating on a historic issue or current policy as senators, while learning the American legislative process. (How much is it like House of Cards, anyway?) The SIM is typically played at the newly opened Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate, but attendees can join a special, on-the-road edition on April 21 and learn from the creators in a post-game discussion. Only 100 Senate seats available. Sign up ASAP.

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Four live and physical games from Come Out & Play

Our friends from the Come Out & Play Festival show how creators are affecting change with non-digital games through this showcase of four games: ROYGBIV, Use Your Words!, Høot Patøoter (pictured above), and a special game from Brooklyn Game Lab. Come play April 22 and 23 in the NYU Skirball lobby!

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Board Game Night, curated by Babycastles

Discover some fantastic board games, including Consentacle (pictured above), The Metagame, Awkward Moment at Work, Howzat, Umpire?, and meet others over a cup of coffee or alcohol at The Uncommons Game Cafe. Limited space. Sign up now to play.
 


 
Want more games?
 

  • Gamedev.world Arcade: Curated by Rami Ismail of Vlambeer, these five games from around the world have something to say about the place they were created in.
  • Meat Demand: A live-action, smartphone-based game about what it takes to feed the world, created by students from Carnegie Mellon University ETC and played at Washington Square Park.
  • Futurecoast: Enter the phone booth (or rather time machine), listen to voicemails from climate-changed futures, and leave your own voicemail.
  • Zombies vs. Superheroes: When the zombie apocalypse comes, what does your city need? Superheroes. Lots of them. Learn basic disaster preparedness and urban survival skills in this live-action game for all ages, presented by The Go Game, at the G4C Public Arcade on April 25. Learn more and sign up to play for free.
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G4C Festival: Only 4 DAYS left in regular registration // Networking events

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Sign up for Festival networking events
 
Meet potential partners, funders, and friends throughout all three days:

 


 
Who will you meet?
 

/// Media and Publishing ///
Ad Council
BuzzFeed
Chicken & Egg Productions
CNN
Condé Nast
Interlude
National Geographic Education
NBC Universal
The New York Times
Oculus VR
Pearson
RGA
Scholastic
Time Inc.
Tribeca Film Institute
USA Today

/// Other For-Profits ///
Apple
Best Buy
McKinsey
Microsoft
Sanofi
U.S. Bank

/// Public Sector ///
Access
American Forest Foundation
American Museum of Natural History
Carnegie Corporation
Center for Media and Social Impact
Code Liberation
FHI 360
Ford Foundation
Fractured Atlas
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Girl Scouts of the USA
Heifer International
Joan Ganz Cooney Center
at Sesame Workshop
National Endowment for the Arts
National Endowment for the Humanities
National Film Board Canada
National Institute of Reproductive Health
New York State Council on the Arts
Open Society Foundations
Service Employees International Union
Smithsonian Institution
St. Baldrick’s Foundation
Planned Parenthood
Procolombia (Government of Colombia)
The Kennedy Center
U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
United Nations

/// Gaming ///
Ablegamers Charity
Amplify
BrainPOP
co.lab
E-Line Media
Entertainment Software Association
FableVision Studios
Filament Games
Gigantic Mechanic
GlassLab Games
Global Gaming Initiative
Globaloria
Hand Eye Society
Harmonix Music Systems
iCivics
Learning Games Network
Minority Media Inc.
NA3M Games
Naughty Dog
Playmatics
Rovio Games
Riot Games
Schell Games
Sony Santa Monica
TeacherGaming / MinecraftEdu
Unity
Vlambeer
Zynga

/// Academia ///
American University
Barnard College
Baylor University
Borough of Manhattan Community College
Carnegie Mellon University
Columbia University
Cornell Tech
DePaul University
Design for Social Innovation at SVA
Emerson College
Full Sail University
Harvard University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
New York University
Parsons The New School for Design
Portland State University
Queen’s University
Quinnipiac University
Scripps College
Stanford University
University of California
University of Chicago
University of Washington
York University

 


 
Only 4 days left in regular registration

Prices go up on Saturday, April 11. Make sure to get your passes now and save.
 

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New Festival Keynotes: HH Prince Fahad Al Saud // Michael Gallagher, ESA

 
We’re excited to introduce our new keynote speakers for the Games for Change Festival!
 

NA3M Founder and CEO, HH Prince Fahad Al Saud
In his Festival keynote, His Highness Prince Fahad Al Saud of Saudi Arabia will delve into the success of his game studio, NA3M Games, as a solution for new content in and for the Middle East region and its role in redefining a generally perceived Arab identity, as well as bridging cultural gaps between East and West. “NA3M Games isn’t just a force in heritage entertainment,” said Prince Fahad. “It’s a platform for expression, a call to action, a legitimate stand to present and defend a valuable system of core values, focused on positive development.”

ESA President and CEO, Michael Gallagher
Michael Gallagher of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) shares highlights and insights into the digital game industry and the positive impact it’s making. The trade association, which represents U.S. computer and video game publishers, is transforming the perception of video games by demonstrating the beneficial influence of entertainment software on areas of daily life, such as education, health, and the workplace.

 


 

Catch up on all of our previous programming:

 


 

Less than two weeks left in regular registration

Prices for Festival passes increase for late registration on April 11. Make sure to get yours now and save.
 

Register

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G4C Festival: Games & Media Summit Lineup Revealed

The Games & Media Summit is one of the options offered on the first day of the Games for Change Festival and is included in our All Access passes. Or you could grab your One-Day Summit pass here.
 

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Keynotes: Nick Fortugno and Lance Weiler

In his opening keynote, digital designer and Playmatics co-founder Nick Fortugno will share a look at the future of impact-focused media. Later in the day, Lance Weiler, a storyteller developing film, TV, and gaming projects, will examine the promise and potential of interactivity.
 
From The Monitor Celestra LARP. Photo by John Paul Bichard.
Case Study of The Spiral: Cross-platform integration to scale

The Spiral, a massive European co-production, drew 100,000 visitors to its online game and drove thousands of players to museums to find clues, as its six-episode TV art heist drama aired. Nordic LARP (live-action roleplay) designers Cecilia Dolk, Martin Ericsson, and Bjarke Pedersen discuss their work on The Spiral, and how integrating LARPs into TV production can add to the experience and impact.
 
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Funders Panel: Adjusting to a moving target

A session exploring the goals, considerations, and potential of games and media, from the perspective of the funders who make it possible: Marc Ruppel (National Endowment for the Humanities), Wendy Ettinger (Chicken & Egg Pictures), Karen Helmerson (New York State Council on the Arts), and moderator Michelle Byrd (Run It By Byrd).
 


 

Full schedule:

9:15 – 9:45 a.m. Opening Keynote: Nick Fortugno
10:00 – 10:30 a.m. Documentary Interactions: Never Alone and Fort McMoney
10:30 – 11:00 a.m. Case Study of The Spiral: Cross-platform integration to scale
11:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Optimizing for Impact and Creativity:
Empowering artists with assessment tools
12:00 – 12:30 p.m. Collaborations and Machinima with Jim Munroe
12:30 – 2:00 p.m. Lunch and Film Screening (HAPHEAD)
2:00 – 2:30 p.m. Keynote: Lance Weiler
2:30 – 3:15 p.m. Choose Your Own…: New hybrid platforms
3:30 – 4:00 p.m. Speaking Each Other’s Language:
Collaborations between filmmakers and game creators
4:00 – 5:00 p.m. Funders Panel: Adjusting to a moving target

 


 

One month until the Festival

Are you ready? Pick up your passes before prices go up on April 11 and save $50.
 

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G4C Festival: Talks on diversity and inclusion

Along with an inside look at the best games for social impact, April’s Games for Change Festival will explore issues of representation, gender, diversity, and inclusion in games, as our speakers highlight how to make games a welcoming space for all.

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Twine for Change
The text game-making tool Twine has proven to be remarkable for making impact games. Game creators, including Merrit Kopas (Consensual Torture Simulator), discuss their work, their goals, and the many kinds of impact Twine is having, with moderator Naomi Clark (Consentacle).

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Rami Ismail: International access and gamedev.world
Come hear more about gamedev.world, a new effort to break through the language barrier to help grow game development in countries with non-English-speaking populations. We’re proud to partner with Rami Ismail of Vlambeer and Sarah Elmaleh on this, and look forward to Rami’s keynote talk and to the arcade he is curating for the Festival, featuring lesser-known games from around the world.

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What Gamergate Means for Triple-A Games and Developers’ Creative Process
A panel of game makers from high-profile projects, including Alexandria Neonakis (The Last of Us), Matt Boch (Fantasia: Music Evolved), and Anthony Burch (Borderlands 2), will discuss whether, why, and how the industry can help games become a more inclusive medium.

 


 
That’s not all. Also look for:

  • Deconstructing GaymerX: Founder Matt Conn shares the origin of this LGBT-oriented gaming convention, how recent events have shaped it, and the future of queer gaming spaces for gamers.
  • Post-Colonial Thought in Games: Designer Steven Fox looks at elements of colonialism found in modern games, such as Civilization and Starcraft, and how these translate in the real world.
  • Transgender Issues in Gaming: From Street Fighter to Dragon Age, video games have a long history of transgender characters. Charles Battersby of Press XY examines where the industry is heading in terms of letting players explore gender roles through games.

 


 
Only 1 month left in regular registration 
Pick up your passes before prices go up on April 11 and save $50.
 

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Introducing the G4C Industry Circle:
A group of pioneering organizations

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In a first-of-its-kind effort to acknowledge the achievements and opportunities in the games for change sector, we are pleased to announce a new initiative called the Industry Circle.

We are recognizing some of the businesses and entrepreneurs who are taking risks, developing viable business models, and emerging as leaders in the sector. We believe that identifying and sharing best practices and lessons learned can inspire and invite others to forge new paths in the field.

As part of this initiative, Industry Circle members are lending generous support to this year’s G4C Festival, where they will also share some of the keys to their success with our community at the Town Hall Q&A.
 

Industry Circle Members

 

Amplify
Amplify is reimagining the way teachers teach and students learn. Ampliy products enable teachers to manage whole classrooms and, at the same time, empower them to offer more personalized instruction, so that students become more active, engaged learners.
Play some of their games: TyrAnt, Twelve a Dozen, Mlob Rule

BrainPOP
With their collection of animated educational content, BrainPOP supports teachers, engages students, and bolsters achievement in classrooms and at home. Their learning games library, GameUp, features over 100 games from partners and is lauded by educators, players, and parents alike.
Play featured games: Quandary, After The Storm: Day One, Codemonkey

Filament Games
A creator of digital learning games and interactives, Filament Games’ mission is to deliver best-in-class teaching solutions that foster 21st-century skills through experiential learning. Their games have seen over 28 million plays and 40,000 paid downloads on Steam.
Play some of their games: Crazy Plant Shop, Reach for the Sun, Backyard Engineers

GlassLab Games
Through its threefold approach, GlassLab Games aims to improve the learning games space by developing games, assessing the impact games have on student outcomes, and providing developers with tools for easily implementing the infrastructure and transparency that teachers require.
Play their games: Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy EDU, SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge!

Global Gaming Initiative
A social enterprise enabling gamers to convert play time into tangible social donations. Their games are making a difference in the lives of children in need through the gifts of bicycles, soccer balls, and life-saving malaria treatments.
Play their games: Sidekick Cycle, Winning Kick, Outbreak Responder

Kognito
Kognito is a leader in driving positive changes in behavior by allowing players to practice challenging conversations with emotionally responsive virtual humans. Their experiences have addressed chronic disease, PTSD, and social issues, and are the first simulations listed in the NREPP.
Play some of their games: Together Strong, Start the Talk, Change Talk

Schell Games
One of the biggest independent game studios in the U.S., Schell Games specializes in creating transformational games. With a decade of game-making experience, they’ve worked with world-famous brands, such as Yale University, The Fred Rogers Company, Disney, and Microsoft.
Play some of their games: Lexica, Tunnel Tail, PlayForward: Elm City Stories

 


 

Town Hall: Meet Industry Circle leaders

 
As part of this effort, the Festival will include an interactive session with Industry Circle members on Thursday, April 23. The 90-minute exchange will feature short talks by leaders from each organization, followed by a Q&A and open discussion of the existing and changing landscape. The session is open for all Festival registrants, first-come, first-served! Register now.
 


 

Regular registration pricing ends in 5 weeks

 
Pick up your passes before prices go up on April 11.
 

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2015 Games for Change Awards nominees announced

Drumroll, please! Here are your nominees for the Games for Change Awards, which celebrate the year’s best social impact games. Narrowed down from a field of over 150 titles, these eight finalists will also be considered for the top honor, Game of the Year, which is awarded to the game that best exemplifies all three categories.

The winners will be announced at the Games for Change Festival‘s Awards Ceremony on April 22, hosted by Jesse Schell.

Thank you to everyone who submitted their game and to our jury of leaders from the gaming community, philanthropic sector, media, and tech, who dedicated their time to rigorously evaluating all entries.
 
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Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)
Developer: E-Line Media
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac
An atmospheric puzzle-platformer created in collaboration with the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people, and the Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s Upper One Games. Nearly 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers, and community members contributed to the game, which shares, celebrates, and extends Iñupiat culture through engaging cooperative gameplay.

This War of Mine
Developer: 11 bit studios / Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Experience war from an entirely new angle. Instead of fighting as elite soldiers, players lead a group of innocent civilians, who struggle to survive another day in a city under siege. Players make life-and-death decisions, driven by their conscience.

That’s Your Right
Developer: Filament Games / Platform: Web/Online
A captivating single- or multiplayer digital card game that teaches students in middle school and high school about the first 10 amendments of American Constitution, known collectively as the Bill of Rights. The game is integrated into the comprehensive, multimedia Constitution curriculum at AnnenbergClassroom.org.

 

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Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)
Developer: E-Line Media
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac
Also nominated for Best Gameplay. (See description above.)

MindLight
Developers: GainPlay Studio, The PlayNice Institute
Platforms: Windows, Mac
A 3D game that uses the mind as a game controller. Using a neurofeedback headset, it incorporates evidence-based relaxation techniques and attention-bias modification methods to help children learn to face and overcome their anxiety and fears.

Zoo U
Developer: 3C Institute / Platform: Web/Online
The first evidence-based game that assesses and builds social emotional skills. Through adaptive, personalized gameplay, children navigate social situations in a virtual world and learn essential social emotional skills for the real world, including communication, cooperation, and empathy.

 

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Bounden
Developer: Game Oven / Platforms: Android, iOS
A dancing game for two players, with choreography by the Dutch National Ballet. Holding either end of a device, players tilt the device around a virtual sphere, following a path of rings on-screen. Players swing their arms and twist their bodies, and before they know it, they are already dancing.

Skip a Beat
Developer: Happitech / Platform: iOS
The world’s first game that uses the player’s actual heart rate as the game controller. Players control their heart rates to earn score multipliers, while the game provides feedback on how their heart rate is changing. The game challenges players to influence their heart rates using thoughts, emotions, and breathing.

Parable of the Polygons
Developers: Nicky Case, Vi Hart / Platform: Web/Online
A playable blog post demonstrating how seemingly harmless choices can make a harmful world. This half-video-game, half-blog-post is formatted like an article, but with dozens of embedded games. Based on the work of Nobel Prize-winning game theorist, Thomas Schelling, the game shows how small individual biases can become large institutional biases.

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Tracy Fullerton
This year, we honor Tracy Fullerton with the annual Game Changer Award, which recognizes the significant global contributions of individuals who inspire and mentor new generations of game creators and researchers. Tracy is an acclaimed game designer, educator, and author whose work has received numerous industry honors. She is currently the director of the joint USC Games Program, and associate professor and chair of the Interactive Media and Games Division of the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Play these games at the G4C Festival

These games and more will be available to play at the Festival! Attend our Awards Ceremony and see who wins. Register now.

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