G4C Student Challenge with NYC’s Dept. of Education

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We are excited to launch our NYC Games for Change Student Challenge, a new game design program for middle and high school students throughout the 2015-16 school year that is supported by an amazing group of partner organizations.

With the help of their teachers and veteran game designers, hundreds of students from public schools across NYC will create original digital games about social issues in their communities, under themes from our sponsors who provide domain expertise, workshop opportunities, and prizes:

  • Civic journalism and under-reported stories (The New York Times)
  • Smart cities (NYC Mayor’s Office of Technology & Innovation)
  • Adult literacy (XPRIZE Foundation)
  • Animal welfare (A Kinder World Foundation)
  • … and more to come this summer

All teachers and students are invited to participate in the challenge. Twenty teachers from schools in all five NYC boroughs have been selected to receive robust training to run game-making courses in their schools. After students submit their games between September 2015 and January 2016, a jury of experts will select the best games. An awards ceremony and a public arcade featuring the top games will be hosted in March by the Museum of the Moving Image.

The challenge is being implemented by Games for Change, Globaloria, Institute of Play, and the Museum of the Moving Image in collaboration with the NYC Department of Education through two innovation initiatives, iZone and Digital Ready. A consortium of cross-sector partners is providing additional resources, prizes, and expertise, including leading game platform Unity and Susan Crown Exchange (SCE) Foundation.

Want to help the next generation of game makers?
We are seeking in-kind prizes that reward students’ passion for technology, creativity, and game design, such as software and hardware, internships, scholarships to summer programs, and mentorship opportunities. Please email contact@gamesforchange.org if you or your organization are interested in sponsoring a prize.

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Save the dates: Jane McGonigal in NYC, Superbetter book signing

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In September, we’re co-hosting two free public events with award-winning game maker and best-selling author Jane McGonigal.

Jane will speak about a decade’s worth of scientific research into the ways all games change how we respond to stress, challenge, and pain. She’ll explain how we can cultivate new powers of recovery and resilience in everyday life simply by adopting a more “gameful” mindset, and bring the same psychological strengths we naturally display when we play games to real-world goals.

Following her talk, she will sign copies of her second book Superbetter. This new book will be available for purchase at these events, or if you can’t make it, you can preorder a copy here.

Tickets will be released by August 15 on our Eventbrite for:

  • The New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, September 15, 6 p.m.
  • NYU Game Center, September 16, 7 p.m.
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Come play this summer at our
Cities of Learning arcades

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For the second year, we’re partnering with Cities of Learning to provide a digital G4C Arcade for students across the country and a live physical experience at end of summer showcases.

Here’s what’s new this year:

  • Four physical arcades in major cities:
  • Dallas (August 7)
  • Pittsburgh (August 8)
  • Chicago (September, TBA)
  • Washington DC (September, TBA)
  • Five new games added to our digital arcade, each paired with real-world activities so players can make a positive impact in their community

Supported by the MacArthur Foundation and powered by the Digital Youth Network and Connected Learning Alliance, each City of Learning brings together all of a city’s resources to equip young people with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. Games for Change is one of many organizations — among NASA, Best Buy, Mozilla, and more — providing accessible, free-to-low-cost activities to youth through the summer and beyond. Our arcades are able to travel across the country thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Lessons Learned from Camp Minecraft

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Game designers know a lot about failure and iteration. Getting a play concept right on the first (or 50th!) try happens infrequently and as a result, game designers quickly learn to traffic in the space of possibility—what if we did this? What if we changed that? Feedback from players fuels the iterative design cycle, helping to push a game from alpha through beta and beyond.

Minecraft, the ridiculously popular game about placing and breaking blocks in a 3D world was designed, developed, and released in collaboration with its player community over a period of more than two years between alpha and beta. During that time features were added, tested and iterated upon—sometimes daily—until the dev team and the community deemed a certain level of fun to have been reached. And then the iteration continued.

Camp Minecraft, part of a Connected Learning Alliance project called Pursuitery, was an outgrowth of this design methodology. The camp, which ran from July 14 to August 6, 2014, provided a friendly and open virtual space where 250 kids played Minecraft together. The camp offered both a space to play, as well as experts who helped kids solve various challenges. The camp only required a valid Minecraft account; access to the server was free.

The camp was run as a pilot designed to better explore the ways in which the interests of young people could be supported, how pathways toward mastery and expertise could be made evident, and how the affordances of “in-the-wild” online communities, like those that have grown up around Minecraft, could serve as models for new kinds of learning communities. Three key takeaways emerged from the pilot:
 
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Kids often grief by accident
Camp Minecraft took place on a multiplayer server, an environment that was new to many of the campers, and their inexperience showed. Multiplayer play is social play—kids are building and playing in a virtual social world, one that comes with all the human complexities of a real-world playground. Learning how to communicate, share, respect boundaries, collaborate and negotiate can be challenging for anyone (kids and adults alike). During the camp, as kids learned the social ropes they sometimes made choices that reflected their inexperience—building on someone else’s plot, dismantling someone else’s structure, flooding chat channels with what amounted to spam. Other players experienced these choices as griefing.

Griefing in games can be a big problem as it destroys the experience of fun for players. Reports of griefing are taken seriously, and no less so during Camp Minecraft. Counselors were quick to investigate any report that came in and took action, where necessary, to kick or ban players. But they found that in the vast majority of cases griefing issues were due to a misunderstanding between players and their boundaries, rather than malicious intent. Kids didn’t mean to grief; they just didn’t understand how to communicate. Counselors refined their approach to griefing based on this realization, supporting players in reflecting on the “whys” of their choices and their responses, rather than excluding them from play.

Kids get invested
Camp Minecraft was scheduled to run for three weeks, during which time the cohort of campers did what kids at camp do—they made friends, leveled up their skills, and formed a unique community, defined by their passions and interests. They also built a lot of stuff. A world that had started out as a blank canvas had been filled to the gills, with all manner and form of built creations. It became obvious to the camp organizers that the campers were heavily invested in their creations and communities. Simply shutting down the server at the end of camp would not only destroy the Minecraft world, but also the community of which so many kids had become part. The server survived and many of the campers are still playing on it today, a year after the camp officially ended.
 
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Challenges provide purpose
The sandbox nature of Minecraft appeals to so many because of the freedom it affords players to pursue any idea they might come up with. Players tap into this LEGO-ish quality and let their imaginations run wild. This can lead to a lot of invention but also, within the context of a community-based experience like Camp Minecraft, to chaos and fragmentation. In response, the camp experimented with weekly player spotlights and challenges that provided structure and encouraged players to work together toward a shared purpose. Players could choose to participate in spotlights or challenges and could do so on their own schedule. This flexibility both empowered the campers and gave them a structure to hang on to, one that allowed for solutions as variable as the interests of the campers themselves.

The second iteration of the camp—Summer of Minecraft—is now underway, its design influenced by these three key takeaways, and others like them. Produced by Connected Camps in collaboration with Institute of Play, the camp runs from July 6 to August 2, with specialized one-week blocks of coding camp offered weekly during that same period. Camp activities give kids a chance to level up their design, building, and social skills in a safe, moderated multiplayer environment staffed by expert high-school and college mentors. There is a camp for grown-ups as well, which runs on a separate server, and allows parents to learn about the game and follow what’s going on with their kids. Visit Connected Camps to register and learn more. Use discount code G4C30 for 30% off Online Kid Camp.

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E3 2015: 10 games that we’re looking forward to

E3, the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, is always a spectacle: hours-long press conferences from top developers and publishers, flashy new titles, and a sprawling exhibition floor. Some things this year were a little different. Large studios are responding to the calls for inclusivity and diversity in games, with more than 20 games featuring female leads or playable characters, character customization with character customization with wide arrays of (Fallout 4, Animal Crossing), and bold experiments that look and feel entirely new to the medium (Cuphead, Unravel).

Here are some of our favorite titles shown at this year’s E3. Which are you most looking forward to?

Upcoming Games

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Developer: Fullbright
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One
Release Date: 2016

The developers of the award-winning game Gone Home are back with a sci-fi twist. Tacoma takes place 70 years in the future and follows the story of Amy Ferrier, a space explorer in search of her missing crew members through an eponymous lunar transfer station with the help of a computer called Odin. Their trailer introduces us to a rich technological environment vaguely reminiscent of Rapture from Bioshock, a project the developers have worked on previously. While details are still scant, it sounds like players can expect the same sense of relationship-focused, thoughtfulness and personal exploration as they did with Gone Home.


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Developer: Media Molecule
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Release Date: Unknown

Community is key with this game from the creators of LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway. This surreal collaborative sandbox/game engine combo will allow users to create and express themselves through 3D animated film, games, art, and music. Using DualShock 4 motion controls, players can sculpt and mold characters and the environment before pushing it onto the web for the world to interact with their creation. An interview with Engadget also revealed it will likely be a launch title on Sony’s Morpheus virtual reality headset.


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Developers: Blindflug Studios
Platforms: iOS
Release Date: Fall 2015

Cloud Chasers is a randomly generated, steampunk journey about the hardships of immigration, based on the experiences of real-world immigrants. The goal of the game is to guide an estranged farmer and his daughter past five large deserts and reach the “land above the clouds.” The trailer even shows hints of exploring themes like class, environmental collapse, and nuclear war. This is not Blindflug’s first game with roots in present-day issues. They also made a strategy game about nuclear war and politics First Strike.


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Developers: EA Digital Illusions CE
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Origin for PC
Release Date: February 23, 2016

It’s been seven years since the release of Mirror’s Edge, a first-person action-platformer where players parkoured their way across a futuristic dystopian city as Faith Connors, a runner delivering messages while avoiding government surveillance. Its sequel, Catalyst, will delve into Faith’s mysterious origin story and touch on technology’s ever-increasing role in our lives and corporate dictatorships, said design director Erik Oledahl in an interview with Wired. The combat will focus even more on movement and agility, rather than guns, which Faith will not use at all this time.


1506_e3 brothers a tale of two sons

Developer: StarBreeze Studios via 505 Games
Platforms: Android, iOS
Release Date: Late 2015

Launched on PC and consoles back in 2013, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was critically acclaimed for its beautiful graphics, charming game mechanics, and emotionally charged storyline. In this 3D puzzle-platformer, players lead brothers Naiee and Naia on a mission to save their dying father. At E3, it was announced that the game was going mobile on Android and iOS with bonus content. This game approaches mature themes, like death, in unconventional ways, and is one of the more stirring downloadable titles we’ve played.


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(Gif from Kotaku)

Developer: Tiger & Squid
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux
Release Date: 2015

In Beyond Eyes, you play as a 10-year-old blind girl named Rae, who explores the world through touch, scent, and sound. She has lost her cat, Nani, and despite her anxiety, goes beyond the land she knows to find it, despite being traumatized from the accident that blinded her and a fear of loud noises and public spaces. The trailer alone gives the sense that being blind doesn’t really hide the world, but lets Rae experience it in a different way.


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Developer: Ninja Theory
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows
Release date: 2016

From the creators of Heavenly Sword and Devil May Cry, Hellblade is about a Celtic warrior named Senua and her journey to Hell as she copes with mental illness, battling depression, anxiety, hallucinations, and delusions. Working with University of Cambridge neuroscience professor Paul Fletcher and mental health foundation Wellcome Trust, Ninja Theory promises a sensitive depiction of depression as Senua faces her literal and figurative demons.


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Photo credit: Jeff Williams

Developer: DragonRat Studio
Platforms: Book and PC game
Release Date: Unknown

This experimental title uses a physical pop-up book of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland as a controller for a digital game. Each page of the pop-up book has a new game to explore on screen. The sensors and buttons in the book are connected to an Arduino unit, which turns players’ actions into on-screen play.

Curiouser and Curiouser! is a great example of what games can be when we look beyond the screen and combine physical and digital gameplay. There is no news about mass production of this game, but you can watch the playthrough here.


1506_e3 SMS Racing

Developers: Turbo Button
Platforms: Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR for Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge
Release Date: Late 2015

SMS Racing, a VR game about texting and driving, shows that sometimes satire is the best way to convey a valuable message. Players balance driving in a metropolitan area while having lengthy conversations with their friends on a cell phone, with only 10 seconds to answer a text. While SMS Racing was not created with the intention of tackling the greater issue of texting and driving, it at least reminds us of how silly and dangerous it really is.


1506_e3 in tune

Developers: Tweed Couch Games
Platforms: You and a friend!
Release Date: Unknown

In Tune, another gem found at IndieCade’s E3 booth, asks players use their bodies as controllers, opening up a very real conversation about consent. Two players imitate body positions that are presented on a screen, and must communicate and discuss their comfort levels throughout the experience. The rules of play show the level of thoughtfulness and passion the creators had while crafting the game. Tweed Couch Games has made other games in order to promote conversations about consent, gender, sexuality, and discrimination which you can find on their website.

Now playable

On the E3 expo floor, we stopped by and played a handful of already publicly available games at IndieCade’s booth, which displayed many innovative games. Give these a try while you wait for newly announced titles to come out.

  • Earth Primer (Chaim Gingold), an interactive earth science book from one of Spore’s creators
  • Metamorphabet (Vectorpark), a virtual alphabet like no other
  • Sunset (Tale of Tales), about a housekeeper in a fictional country in the throes of a civil war
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Response to Impact With Games Report: Sabrina Culyba of Schell Games

[ This post was originally published on GameImpact.net This guest post by Sabrina Culyba is the first in a series of responses to our first report. ]

I’m Sabrina Culyba, a game designer at Schell Games. I was excited to see the first Impact with Games report and the conversation it represents. The report team put out a call for feedback and I’d like to share some from my own perspective to keep the conversation going.

Defining Impact
In a parallel to the first claim of the report “Impact is defined too narrowly,” I was intrigued by the aspect of the report on games that create collective social change.

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First some background: In my work at Schell Games, I’ve mostly approached impact from a player-centric perspective. At our studio, we call these games “Transformational Games” and approach our design as a means to transform the player, with the view that larger social change spreads from individual transformation.

This isn’t to say that we don’t design for social or group interactions, but our focus has typically been how these interactions contribute to, or stem from, individual players.

So this report and further conversation with Ben Stokes challenged the “individual first” view a bit, opening up a different perspective for me about group transformation as its own thing separate from individual transformation. For me, group transformation is a new layer to creating change that I am eager to dig into more in the future.

Surfacing Forms of Evaluation
Claim #3 “Evaluation Methods are Inflexible” really came to life for me recently during a thread on a educational games mailing list of which I am a member. The conversation started out as an attempt to collectively list the entities out there who are publishing assessments on learning games, whether based on formal research, teacher experience, factual stats, subjective review, or other means.

Almost immediately the discussion evolved into a debate about what constituted valid evaluation of a game, including some pointed statements from individuals about what other people are doing wrong in this space. I wish I could say that we came to an insightful conclusion but the reality was that there was a lot of collective cross talking, rather than collaborative problem solving. It’s clear there’s a lot of frustration out there and I think this is one of the most important conversations to continue to push forward from this report.

Personally, I agree with the sentiment in the report that we should have multiple lenses through which to evaluate the efficacy of a game. And I also think that one of those lenses should be rigorous research. Two of the most interesting relevant points to come out of that mailing list conversation were:

  1. Context of use matters: A great teacher can create an amazing learning experience out of a game whether or not it was designed well or with learning in mind. Similarly a proven, effective game for impact used in the completely wrong context may fail to change anything. We need to talk about context when we talk about a game’s efficacy.
  2. Problems with Access & Timing: Without a clear way to find out what research or evaluation has been done on which games, teachers and others looking to use games for change are forging their own path or relying on word of mouth. They aren’t going to simply wait for a 3-5 year study (assuming there is one on a game that fits their need.) What tools can we provide to collect and surface useful short term metrics such as anecdotes, expert review, or informal data?

A Missing Piece: Higher Costs (for transformation & evaluation)
Under “Anticipated Project Benefits for Game Designers & Makers,” the report says:

If the lack of evaluated games is any indication, a common scenario is to focus on creating the game and worry about evaluation once it is done (if at all).

The assumption implied here is that game makers do not see the importance of considering assessment early — that their approach is to focus on the game first.

I’ve also heard this echoed from other sources, sometimes even with a statement that game makers don’t want their games to be evaluated, lest their ineffectiveness be revealed. While this could be true in some cases, I think this understates the role of funding in what is produced.

Developers actually have little recourse when there is insufficient funding; too often there are insufficient funds to do a proper pre-production that includes significant integration with prior research and planning for assessment, and too often there is no funding for post-ship followup to evaluate the game’s effectiveness. In fact, lack of funding that enables the creation of games that are both of a high entertainment quality and also incorporate research, teacher tools, assessment, etc., is, I think, an elephant in the report. There’s really no way around the fact that for two games of around the same size and production value, a transformational game has more moving parts, more stakeholders, and more metrics for success to hit than a game developed purely for entertainment.

And yet I still see RFPs for these kinds of games that would barely cover the costs of cloning an existing game. How do we talk about that? Can we talk about it?

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G4C Festival: The full story in videos, pictures, and stats

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Our 2015 G4C Festival covered a lot of ground in three days, with dozens of games, talks, and attendees coming from around the world to share and celebrate the positive power of games. Catch up on everything that happened:

Stay tuned for updates on our year-round programming outside of the Festival. We have much more coming in the following months!

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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

Posted in Community, G4C Announcement, Resources | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

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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