Games for Learning Summit recap (part 2): Four Key Takeaways

The Games for Learning Summit was hosted on June 23-24, 2016 at the New School’s Parsons School of Design, as part of the 13th annual Games for Change Festival. The Summit was sponsored by the Entertainment Software Association, with additional support from Microsoft. This three-part blog post summarizes the outcomes of the event through an overview of recent progress made by the learning games community (part 1), key takeaways from the Summit (part 2), and areas of opportunity for developers, educators and other stakeholders (part 3).


Four useful takeaways emerged across the games, sessions, topics, and Q&As at the 2016 Games for Learning Summit. These themes demonstrate significant progress in understanding how to effectively create and distribute learning games, and reveal new opportunities for sharing this knowledge with our community.

The number of commercially successful learning games is growing across a variety of content areas, as is the demand for such games.

The conference presented a wide range of games with at least emerging indicators of commercial success and participant engagement in the K-12 market. Games covered a wide range of topics and skills, including school community, critical thinking, youth collaboration, classroom management, health, analyzing texts, medical science, coding, history, as well as core academic content. Expert panelists also described emerging markets for games in multiple subject areas outside of core K-12 academic subjects, such as social-emotional learning, data analysis and manipulation, health education, and business analytics.

There is widespread respect for and understanding of teachers as game users, advocates, and strategic partners.

Multiple panelists promoted teacher-centric practices, including: a) solving real needs and pain points with games; b) providing transparent and fair pricing structures; c) gathering teacher input early in the process of game development; and d) building games that are familiar to teachers to reduce training and professional development. A number of panelists also described the importance of providing relevant and meaningful tutorials and professional development for teachers, though they also acknowledged that this is an ongoing challenge.

There is a growing consensus among game makers and game-based learning advocates for what good learning games should look like.

As one member of the G4C Industry Circle put it during the Town Hall session, “We’re winning the battle between quiz games and real games.” Presenters agreed on a number of features and considerations for creating good learning games, such as:

  • When the learning is integrated, not separate, from the game
  • Providing students with opportunities to experiment and fail
  • Educational versions of popular games need to retain the fun of the original game
  • Games are particularly good at teaching skills as opposed to curricular content, which can be an effective marketing strategy for selling to districts
  • We should not think of games as replacing teachers. Teachers should lead and support the game experience as they would other classroom activities, using games as teaching tools.

Demonstrably effective business models and distribution channels are emerging for learning games, but more work is needed to expand these models and grow the community.

Participants in the “Feats and Flops” panel at the Games for Learning Summit moderated by U.S. Department of Education SBIR program manager Ed Metz provided a range of funding strategies and considerations for game companies, including:

  • Balancing profits from contract work and grants to support learning game projects
  • Using strategic small investments as opposed to venture capital (a few presenters described the implied profit-motivated goals of venture capital may be misaligned with the K-12 market)
  • SBIR grants from the U.S. Department of Education
  • Fostering strategic partnerships and profit-sharing to capitalize on collective competencies.

Presenters and attendees also raised important factors that support and prevent successful distribution of learning games. Factors that lead to wider distribution include teachers championing games through social networks, crowdsourcing funding for early capital and proof of concept, and pilot-testing games and building a loyal following on Steam’s Early Access. Barriers that hamper distribution of learning games included the historic lack of support from publishers for small game companies, tendency for content creators to get squeezed out of profits, market saturation of “educational” games, and difficulty in evaluating quality.

The most common audience questions were about game publishing and distribution, funding, and business models, evidencing the need for more recognition and dissemination of successful approaches as case studies, resources, and business models in forums, at events and through working groups.

We’d love to hear if there are additional accomplishments to celebrate as we develop an agenda to build towards next year’s Summit. Please share any other milestones, moments, or accomplishment that we left out by emailing

Videos of sessions, workshops and keynotes are available on the G4C YouTube channel:

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Epic Orphan: Blending serious games and learning games

[ This post originally appeared on the Filament Games’ blog ]

By: Dan Norton

Over the years, I’ve worked on a wide variety of serious games project. My specialty is of course in learning games, and I thought it would be worth talking about the intersections (and contrasts) between learning games and serious games.

So let’s first start with busting out some form of taxonomy. Kids love taxonomies!

In my experience, the easiest way to categorize learning games is as a subset of serious games. That is to say, I define serious games as “games created with an intent different than purely entertainment”. That means “games that teach targeted learning objectives” is a type of serious game. There are a bunch of other types of serious games, including “games that raise awareness about an issue”, “games that facilitate positive change”, “games that alter your ways of thinking”, etc., etc. Filament Games has done some work that overlaps in each of those categories, but our core wheelhouse is in “games that make you better at a thing”.

Recently I’ve had the enjoyable experience of working on a prototype for a “game that raises awareness about an issue” (Epic Orphan, a game about the dangers of misplaced nuclear materials — Kickstarter is out now, check it out!). Working on Epic Orphan highlighted a big contrast on how I approach the differences in these genres. Subgenres. Whatever.

The big difference is that in learning games, your primary goal is to distill learning objectives into actionable, performable, and ideally accessible gameplay. You’re looking for the gameplay metaphor that provides a window of practice and mastery of your set objectives. This becomes your fixed compass for design, and essentially every design decision you make is subservient to that.

In games for awareness, you’re relying on the game first and foremost as an engagement tool. That doesn’t mean it should be vapid or trivial, but that your first goal is to make the gameplay interesting and sticky, so that the issue’s context and importance can be established and reinforced.

That means that you want to make room for narrative tools with a higher precedence than you might approach a pure learning-objective driven game. Story, characters and dialogue, classic tools of every story medium on the planet, can be applied to create a world in which the player can see just how impactful your targeted issue is.

In Epic Orphan, we went with a slightly blended approach. The game itself is built as a narrative-driven experience (motion comics in an outrun-style art aesthetic!), but we also integrated an identity-model for the player — you take the role of a government agent working in a secret organization dedicated to the tracking and containment of nuclear materials. So player identity (a gameplay tool) is used to reinforce the narrative — this is different than using identity to reinforce gameplay mechanics. As for the mechanical “gamey-game” stuff, we have small minigame experiences like intelligence gathering and code-breaking — they too also serve the identity and narrative, but don’t express concepts of practice and expertise.

By that, I mean we’re not attempting to train players to become government agents. We’re simply giving them an identity that is reinforced and empowered to try and solve problems with rogue nuclear material. We let the details of the narrative add depth to the issue, and use our gameplay to provide a rhythm of engagement that keeps players interested.

We need your help getting Epic Orphan funded on Kickstarter! If it does meet its funding goals, I’m looking forward to our shop pushing its capabilities with more narrative-driven storytelling tools (animated comics are super fun to make!) and with more story-driven, engaging minigames. Remember — no donation is too small, so if you can help, please stop over to their Kickstarter page before Sunday, November 20 to support the project!

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Announcing our first Kickstarter:
Epic Orphan, a nuclear risk game

One year ago, Epic Orphan won our N Square Game Design Challenge around nuclear weapons. Now, we’re turning to Kickstarter and crowdfunding the creation of this episodic adventure-puzzle game about nuclear weapons to bring this important game for social change to the public.

Epic Orphan gives players the chance to join the fight against nuclear weapons and explore the globe as an agent tracking down “orphan sources”, or uncontrolled radioactive materials, to prevent nuclear weapons incidents. This is the first time we are crowdfunding one of our game design challenge winners, and we couldn’t be prouder of the game concept and our partners in taking on such an important and timely issue.

Learn more about the game and back it on Kickstarter!

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Games for Learning Summit recap (part 1): Accomplishments and progress

The Games for Learning Summit was hosted on June 23-24, 2016 at the New School’s Parsons School of Design, as part of the 13th annual Games for Change Festival. The Summit was sponsored by the Entertainment Software Association, with additional support from Microsoft. This three-part blog post summarizes the outcomes of the event through an overview of recent progress made by the learning games community (part 1), key takeaways from the Summit (part 2), and areas of opportunity for developers, educators and other stakeholders (part 3).



The Summit built on the first Games for Learning Summit hosted by G4C in 2015, and included speakers from the White House Office of Science, Technology and Policy (OSTP), U.S. Department of Education, Google, Magic Leap, Valve, Unity, IBM, National Endowment for the Humanities, and many more. Panels, talks and workshops covered topics like sustainable business models, the possibilities of VR in the classroom, future of game-based assessments, the Computer Science for All movement, and strategies for developing games for early learners. (Watch videos of the Summit sessions here.)

The tone of the Games for Learning Summit was overwhelmingly collaborative and optimistic. Evidence of attendee enthusiasm was everywhere, from the cross-disciplinary groups feverishly building games in Classcraft’s Gamifying the Classroom workshop to Rhode Island’s Chief Innovation Officer Richard Culatta mentioning that he received more than 300 emails after the 2015 Games for Learning Summit inquiring about a second Summit in 2016.

There were also numerous indicators that learning games and the game industry in general are gaining more widespread acknowledgement, market share, and credibility. The following is a partial list of milestones and accomplishments from recent years that were mentioned at the 2016 G4C Festival and Games for Learning Summit:

  • The Smithsonian’s Video Game Pioneers Archive invited the community to help preserve the history of the video game industry’s first-generation inventors
  • Announcement of Civilization EDU with Sid Meier, the ESA, GlassLab, Collective Shift, and Take-Two Interactive
  • National STEM Video Game Challenge is now in its sixth year
  • Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA) was formed
  • The first White House Education Game Jam was held
  • Computer Science for All (CS4All) is a growing national movement recognized by President Obama
  • 99% of schools to have high-speed internet by 2017
  • 2,000 superintendents (13% of US superintendents) have made the Future Ready Schools Pledge to integrate digital learning into their schools
  • Game champions exist at the federal level such as the U.S.Department of Education—Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) & Office of Edtech—and White House Office of Science, Technology and Policy (OSTP)
  • 23 million people have completed Hour of Code since November 2015
  • A suite of games is currently in FDA clinical trials to become the first prescribeable video games
  • Federal and private funding led to the founding of GlassLab Games to create educational games
  • Ed Tech Developer’s Guide was created by the Office of Educational Technology
  • Successful brands from entertainment games are being repurposed and adapted in educational contexts (Portal 2, Minecraft, Civilization)

We’d love to hear if there are additional accomplishments to celebrate as we develop an agenda to build towards next year’s Summit. Please share any other milestones, moments, or accomplishment that we left out by emailing

Videos of sessions, workshops and keynotes are available on the G4C YouTube channel:

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Make games with us at our NYC Student Challenge Moveable Game Jams!

G4C Student Challenge Moveable Game Jam

Starting October 15, Games for Change will be hosting a series of four Moveable Game Jams, with support from the HIVE Digital Media Learning Fund, as a part of our G4C Student Challenge in New York City. Inspired by HIVE’s previous Moveable Game Jams with the Museum of the Moving Image a couple years ago, we also want to create an environment where students can utilize game development resources to create a rewarding learning experience for first time coders.

We are excited to announce that our first all-day Moveable Game Jam will kick off on October 15 inside the historic Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx. All NYC middle and high school students are invited to participate, even those with no previous game design experience! Don’t miss the morning tricks of the trade workshop, where students can interact with professional game designers and civic leaders to discuss how games can be used for social impact in our world. Free lunch will also be provided for participants.

Register for this free event here!

Students will learn aspects of game design in the four unique game design stations run by our awesome partners:

  • Coder Dojo NYC: Digital Haunted House: Craft your own interactive haunted house in Scratch! Halloween is coming up soon, so what better way to set the mood than to tell your own spooky stories and characters through a game?
  • Spazecraft/Soh Nup EDU: Sonic Scavenger Hunt & Monster Mash Up: Join DJ Spazecraft as he tries to solve audio puzzles by discovering different sounds to record all around us. Afterwards, have a go at creating your own Frankenstein monster song, and even get a chance to perform it!
  • Museum of the Moving Image: Movie Inspired Game: Fan of both movies and games? The Museum of the Moving Image challenges you to create an original game inspired by classic films. Transform your favorite story into an interactive experience!
  • Award-winning game educator Matt Farber and Kevin Miklasz: Recreating Fluxx: Fluxx is the card game with ever changing rules. Learn how to play this exciting new game and try your own hand at redesigning it with your very own rules!

Can’t make this Movable Game Jam? Mark your calendars for November 5 at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens and December 3 at Brooklyn College Community Partnership (BCCP) in Brooklyn! The upcoming game jam themes are Smart Cities, Local Stories & Immigrant Voices, and Climate Change.

If you have further questions, please contact

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2nd annual G4C Student Challenge launches in NYC, Dallas, and Pittsburgh!

G4C Student Challenge banner

Games for Change (G4C) is proud to announce the launch of the 2nd annual G4C Student Challenge in NYC, Pittsburgh, and Dallas for the 2016-2017 school year. This year’s programs features three new themes — Local Stories & Immigrant Voices, Climate Change, and Future Communities — along with a new lineup of partners and student events.

The Challenge is being implemented through a consortium of national partners, including Mouse and Institute of Play, and local partners in each city (The Sprout Fund in Pittsburgh and Big Thought in Dallas) with generous support from the Best Buy Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities and the HIVE Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust.

Challenge themes

Students will design games around the following three themes, each supported by partners that provide research assets, workshops, and subject expertise:

  • Local Stories & Immigrant Voices – supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): Games that explore the unique history of local immigrant experiences through the lens of the student’s own experience;
  • Climate Change – supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA): Games that explore the local effects of climate change, and aim to raise awareness and change the behavior of people in each city;
  • Future Communities – supported by Current, powered by GE: Games about how smart technologies and infrastructure can improve urban life and empower citizens, with participation from the city governments in NYC, Dallas, and Pittsburgh.

A consortium of humanities partners is also providing city-specific content for the NEH Local Stories & Immigrant Voices theme, including the New York Historical Society, Brooklyn Historical Society, CUNY American Social Histories Project (NYC); Humanities Texas (Dallas); Heinz History Center and Pittsburgh Kids (Pittsburgh).


How the competition works

Students can work either individually or as a team of up to four to create a digital game to submit to the competition, which is open to all middle and high school students in city public schools. Students will be invited to submit their projects through the Challenge website in spring 2017.

A jury of top game developers, civic leaders, and social innovators will evaluate submissions and select the winners in May 2017. Prizes, which include career development opportunities such as internships, job shadowing, and mentorships, will be presented at an awards ceremony at a cultural institution in each city. Three Grand Prize winners will be flown to NYC and invited to come onstage at the 14th annual G4C Festival in 2017.

Moveable Game Jams in NYC

G4C has also added a new component to the NYC Challenge program — a series of four hands-on game making events, or Moveable Game Jams. Supported by the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund, the game jams will each be hosted in a different NYC borough and focused on a Challenge theme, with activities facilitated by organizations leading the way on coding, STEM learning, and game development.

The first Moveable Game Jam will be held on October 15th at the Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx, with activities by Museum of the Moving Image, Spazecraft, and CoderDojo NYC. Student registration is open here:

Game design courses

As part of the Challenge program, a select group of 20 teachers in each city will receive professional development to run game design courses at their schools using a curriculum developed by the national curriculum partner Mouse, with student mentorship provided by professional game designers.

The 2017/18 G4C Student Challenge is currently in the early planning stage with an aim to bring the program to more cities and schools. The Challenge is supported by the Best Buy Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities and The New York Community Trust.

To learn more about partnership opportunities for this year’s Challenge (we are seeking in-kind prize partners and mentors) or to participate as a student or teacher, please get in touch!

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Fall update: G4C Student Challenge and upcoming events

Our amazing Smart Parks Game Jam participants! 

Happy fall! This is the time of year we get out on the road and partner with other festivals, conferences, and expos around the country. We have a lot planned for this season including G4C Arcades, Moveable Game Jams, workshops, and even a Youth STEM Career Day. See our fall schedule below, and we hope to see you at one (or more!) of these events.

In other G4C news, we are launching the 2nd annual G4C Student Challenge later this week! Based on a successful 2015 pilot in NYC, we are expanding this digital game design competition to Pittsburgh, Dallas and NYC. We are thrilled to be working with a consortium of partners including the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Best Buy Foundation, The New York Community Trust/HIVE, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), Current powered by GE, Mouse, Big Thought, Sprout Fund, Museum of the Moving Image, and Institute of Play! Visit the G4C Student Challenge site to learn more.

Come say hi to us at one of these events!

  • Oct. 7 – Intentional Play Summit (San Francisco): G4C President Susanna Pollack moderates a panel on climate change games.
  • Oct. 13-16 – IndieCade (Los Angeles): We’re honored to join the Gaming for Everyone Pavilion, presented by Intel, at IndieCade!
  • Oct. 15 – Moveable Game Jam (Bronx, NYC): The first in a series of Moveable Game Jams for NYC middle and high school students as part of the G4C Student Challenge. Register for free here.
  • Oct. 19-22 – PopTech (Camden, Maine): We are hosting a G4C Arcade and making a special announcement!
  • Oct. 28-29 – ArtCade (NYC): We curated games to be part of ArtCade’s latest showing in nontraditional and independent video games. 
  • Oct. 29 – Playcrafting Halloween Expo (NYC): Come celebrate NYC-made games for change at Playcrafting’s spooky game expo with trick-or-treat and costumes at Microsoft HQ. Register here.
  • Nov. 2 – Fast Company Innovation Festival (NYC): We host a 1.5-hour workshop and deep dive into the impact-games sector. 
  • Nov. 5 – Moveable Game Jam (NYC): Our second game jam in the series will focus on one of our Challenge themes (Climate Change, Smart Cities, or Local Stories & Immigrant Voices). Stay tuned for details.
  • Nov. 8 – 4th Annual STEM Matters Career Day (NYC): NYC students attend our career workshop about working in the games industry, part of a NYC Department of Education program.
  • Nov. 11-13 – PRACTICE: Game Design in Detail (Brooklyn): We’re thrilled to sponsor and lend support to this great game design conference. More details to come!

We’ll have more to share soon, including our first-ever Kickstarter campaign, an online Charity Auction, and a special book signing event by a G4C alum!

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Smart Parks Game Jam and Arcade Recap: G4C’s day at the NY Park Exchange


Games for Change hosted in August a game arcade and outdoor game jam, supported by American Express, as part of the National Parks Service Centennial Celebration at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City.

We had a G4C Arcade where we showcased Save the Park, an iOS game about parks volunteerism that we executive produced in partnership with Schell Games.  NYC-based game studio Gigantic Mechanic led our Smart Parks Game Jam, in which participants prototyped games that encourage people to interact with parks, showing how games can inspire environmental stewardship and civic engagement.

The hands-on game jam focused on creating live physical games that celebrate our parks led by the fantastic team at Gigantic Mechanic. The session introduced over 40 participants to the basic concepts and practice of game design, followed by an introduction to critical play: playing games and analyzing their structure. The game jammers worked in teams of four to five to design prototypes of games that integrate a physical aspect of the park, such as staircases, hills, walkways or fields and help engage visitors.


Once prototypes were ready and tested, all of the workshop participants came together to play each other’s games in a mini-field day. A panel of judges played and evaluated games, and included a National Park Service Ranger from Thomas Edison National Historical Park, American Express’ VP of Corporate Social Responsibility Meredith Hahn, G4C President Susanna Pollack, and two NYC game designers, Rachél Bazelais and Chris Algoo. Prizes were awarded for Best Game (as voted on by the other teams) and Best Players (the team that wins the most games during the field day), and winners were awarded limited edition American Express National Park gift cards.


Over 1,000 kids and families played our iOS game Save the Park at the G4C Arcade at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 1, learning about different ways to volunteer in parks, and experiencing the conservation activities that support the U.S. National Parks from collecting soil samples to greeting visitors.

Save the Park seeks to inspire and encourage a new generation of park lovers to take an active role in helping preserve these important natural and historic resources for future generations. The American Express Foundation makes a $1 donation to the National Park Foundation for each download occurring during 2016, up to $50,000. The donation will support the NPF’s park conservation and stewardship work. So visit the iOS app store and download Save the Park onto your mobile device today! Learn more about Save the Park at


This G4C Arcade and Smart Parks Game Jam was part of the NY Park Exchange event series held in Brooklyn Bridge Park to kick off the National Park Service’s Centennial. Event visitors learned about Thomas Edison National Historical Park through a series of fun, interactive puzzle challenges, and Bill Nye the “Science Guy” made a special appearance to talk about the importance of parks conservation and stewardship for the over 400 national parks. Learn more about the National Park Service’s Find Your Park initiative at and on social media using #FindYourPark.

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Make and play games with us at the Smart Parks Game Jam and Arcade!


Games for Change and American Express are hosting a hands-on game jam and a game arcade at the NYC Park Exchange event on August 22 to celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial!

Event goers will have the chance to experience the brilliant innovations of Thomas Edison National Historical Park, alongside Bill Nye the “Science Guy,” as we transform New York City’s skyline in celebration of the centennial anniversary. During the Park Exchange from 1 to 10 p.m., visitors will gain a better understanding of Thomas Edison’s effect on the modern world by engaging with a series of fun, interactive puzzle challenges.

Smart Parks Game Jam
Form a team with friends or family (we can also find a team for you!), come learn the basics of game design from the folks behind the Come Out & Play Festival, and rapidly prototype games that encourage people to interact with the park, showing how games can inspire environmental stewardship and civic engagement.

We’ll be playing and making games at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 1, on August 22 from 3 to 7 p.m. Games will be played by judges, and winners will receive prizes!

No experience is required, and all ages are welcome to join. Sign up for the game jam here, and meet us at the Games for Change booth in the park at 3 p.m. to start making games!

Games for Change Arcade
From 1 to 10 p.m., we’ll also be hosting an arcade at our booth right in the park. Come visit us for digital and physical games, temporary tattoos, stickers, and other fun activities for the whole family to enjoy! No sign-ups required for the arcade.

Hope to see you there!

Have any questions? Feel free to send an email to:

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Games for Change is looking for social media interns

1508_Games for Change internship posting

Games for Change is looking for a social media intern to support a range of projects promoting games for social impact this fall. Candidates for this unpaid internship should meet the below qualifications and requirements.

Key Responsibilities:

  • Draft social media content for Games for Change’s social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn
  • Help manage our social media and communications calendar
  • Schedule approved posts via Tweetdeck and social media scheduling tools
  • Research leaders and influencers in key areas for specific G4C programs
  • Provide reports from Google Analytics and social media tools
  • Add posts to the Games for Change blog
  • Required Skills:

    • You have excellent grammar, writing, and research skills
    • Ideally, you’ve handled social media accounts for an organization before. At minimum, you have active social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and are familiar with or willing to learn social media scheduling tools.
    • Know how to collect and report social media metrics
    • Basic photo-editing skills for editing and resizing photos and screenshots
    • Knowledge of Excel, Word, Google Docs
    • Comfortable with WordPress and HTML
    • Driven to complete tasks on time and able to switch gears quickly
    • Knowledge or interest in the games, especially social impact games
    • Familiarity with Google Analytics a plus

    Interns will support the following programs:

    • NYC G4C Student Challenge: We’ve launched our second Games for Change Student Challenge, a new game design program for middle and high school students, in New York City, Dallas, and Pittsburgh.
    • G4C Industry Circle: 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 Games for Change Industry Circle.
    • LRNG: In 2015, we produced three live arcades for youth across the country, reaching more than 2,500 kids. We’ve joined the LRNG, the relaunch of Cities of Learning, as a strategic partner.
    • Public Arcades: Our arcades bring the work of game developers addressing positive social change and learning to new audiences and unexpected contexts. We’ve featured games at Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, YouTube Space LA, and more.
    • Game design challenges and a yet-to-be-announced project. : )

    To apply, please send an email with the subject line “G4C Social Media Intern” to meghan (at) Please send your resume as an attachment and include the following information in the body of the email:

    • Availability (hours per week) and location
    • School, program and expected graduation year
    • Sample tweet for the G4C program listed above that is of the most interest to you. This should be written as if it is coming from the Games for Change Twitter account.
    • Overview of interest and experience with social impact games (design, play, etc.)
    • Details on any prior related internship experience
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