Marco Williams is using his film and games to cross new borders

This is the first in a two part series detailing our work with recipients of the Tribeca Film Institute’s “Games for Change Fellowship”.


Last year, Games for Change partnered with the Tribeca Film Institute and their All Access Alumni program for filmmakers.

Joining a host of other grant and mentorship opportunities for filmmakers was the annual “Games for Change Fellowship,” which provides one film project the chance to work with the Games for Change team and network, in order to implement a game in tandem with their existing film project.

In our inaugural year, we selected award-winning director and NYU professor, Marco Williams and his film “The Undocumented“.

Tehuipango Veracruz, one of the Mexican cities profiled in “The Undocumented”.

Marco’s powerful documentary explores how race, border policies, the appeal of economic opportunities, and the harshness of the American deserts endanger and kill hundreds of Mexican “border crossers” each year.

Over the past 12 months, Games for Change has been working with Marco as he explores how to bring his vision of an accompanying game to life, how to navigate conversations with experienced game developers, and even where to get funding to begin work on a game.

I recently spoke to Marco to better understand how working with Games for Change over the last year has been helpful in allowing The Undocumented to reach new audiences with a game titled, “The Migrant Trail”.


Marco tells us that one of the most important factors of the Fellowship has been his one-on-one time with our co-President, Asi Burak.

Among the many insights Asi shared, Marco explained that simply understanding the core differences in how film and video games operate, helped form his early education in this space. While it seems obvious, truly understanding the expectations, mind frame, and forms of engagement that separate a film goer to a gamer can lead to new discoveries in outreach capabilities and content creation.

While exploring the gaming space as a whole, Marco recalls his frustrations with most social impact games that focus too directly on education and not on engagement and play.

As a seasoned filmmaker, Marco wanted to make sure his first foray into gaming made an impact with the same intensity of his films. He knew that if he could first engage a player with an experience that captured their attention, he could then make an appropriate effort to educate them on important issues.


Most people who come from different fields into the gaming space often find it frustrating and overwhelming.

Marco on the other hand likened the whole experience to his fond childhood memories of learning how to ride a bike. Every step forward he took with Games for Change made him feel confident that one day he could “take the training wheels off” and ride on his own.

To assist Marco beyond the idea stage, Games for Change introduced him to potential game designers who could bring his project to life.

One group that Marco had an instant connection with was the New York City-based Gigantic Mechanic. Through brainstorming sessions with the team at Gigantic Mechanic, Marco told me he felt truly liberated and that he could take a gaming project into his own hands.

“[It] helped me to have a larger imagination. It helped me understand that I could create a game”.


A border patrol officer in Arizona looking for border crossers.

With Gigantic Mechanic’s help, Marco was also able to create powerful proposal for the game. To give “The Migrant Trail” the financial support it needs in order to produce a full-fledged game, we’ve assisted Marco in facilitating a series of conversations with funders that allowed the project to secure the appropriate funding.

This combined effort will allow “The Migrant Trail” to begin production later this month. Marco has already begun lining up a series of designers and artists to finish the project, and we’re told that we can expect to see the game in the next 4 to 6 months.

As the game will be preceding the release of the film, interested filmgoers should anticipate seeing Marco’s documentary premiere in first half 2013 on PBS.

When I asked Marco about this whirlwind journey, he told me, “I make documentaries about complicated, challenging, social issues” and in understanding how his subject matter may shut him out of some communities, he sees games as an opportunity to begin thinking about different forms of storytelling

This fellowship opportunity has left an impression on Marco, so much so that he told me that all of his future projects would have some sort of interactive element to it.

When I asked him how that makes him feel about his future he said,

“It makes me feel like a kid in a candy store.”


Learn more about The Undocumented on its official website. 

Read our interview with this year’s Games for Change Fellowship recipient Wonder Women!, here.

One Comment

Antony Mwangi Kienji

Great!This is revolutionary.Had an opportunity to test the worm attack and family values games yesterday here in Nairobi,Kenya and chatted with Mitchell…all i can say is well done guys!Your history makers!


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