Epic Orphan Nuclear Weapons Dossier: North Korea


Greetings, secret agents! As a part of Mission Epic Orphan, our crowdfunding campaign that will help make nuclear risk game Epic Orphan a reality, we would like to share with you declassified information about countries that are actively working with nuclear weapons. This will give you an idea of some of the cases you will work on in Epic Orphan and that are currently facing our world today.

You can help us in the final days of this mission, too! See the redacted information that looks like this:           ?

Do some of your own legwork and tweet us a nuclear weapons fact that you found surprising about this country with the hashtag #EpicOrphan and link to the Kickstarter page for a chance to win passes to next year’s 2017 Games for Change Festival, the annual conference in New York City that celebrates games for social impact. Selected agents’ facts will appear in our updated dossier and will also be commended on our Twitter feed. The Festival passes will be raffled to one agent at the end of our Kickstarter campaign (November 20).

We look forward to your help! Stay tuned for additional dossiers. Good luck, agents!

Country: North Korea
Leader: Kim Jong-un
Nuclear weapons possession since: 2006
Number of weapons in nuclear arsenal: 15-22
Number that are operational: ??

Background: North Korea has been suspected of developing nuclear weapons since the early 1980s. Various attempts have been made by international parties to limit their expansion and nuclear capabilities with undetermined effect.

Additional findings on nuclear arsenal:

  • Total nuclear tests: 5
  • Most recent nuclear test: September 9, 2016

Known nuclear incidents:

  • North Korea officials report nuclear test with explosive radioactive output. China was reportedly given 20 minute advance notice of testing and question remains as to whether the testing was successfully conducted. (more info)
  • North Korea detonated underground nuclear device along with several nuclear missile tests conducted in Pyongyang. Following the test, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1874 condemning the test and tightening sanctions on the country. (more info)
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Supporting the G4C Community

G4C red banner

Dear G4C Community,

In light of the recent election, we want to shine light on the inspiring work of our community, using games to make a positive impact on the world! G4C is committed to inclusivity and tolerance, and will continue to promote games on political issues, empathy and diversity.

Games can be a powerful tool in driving social change and inspiring empathy, and our community is thus a force for good. Please use G4C as a resource in these months ahead: share your work so we can help support it; explore games about politics, diversity, mindfulness and empathy; and reach out if you have further thoughts on how to use games to heal, inspire, and enrich our communities.

Some games that may help enlighten and inspire during this difficult time include Nevermind, Mission US:City of Immigrants, Win the White House, Gone Home, Life is Strange, Papers Please, Half the Sky Movement: The Game, and many more.

We’re here to help in whatever ways we can. Don’t hesitate to reach out!


The Games for Change team

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Meet the developer of nuclear risk game Epic Orphan: Q&A with Filament Games’ Dan Norton




“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.” – COO of Filament Games, Dan Norton


Continuing our series of interviews with the creators behind nuclear risk game Epic Orphan, we recently caught up with the Chief Creative Officer at Filament Games, Dan Norton, to ask him more about Filament’s role in developing the game.

Filament Games is an education-focused video game developer founded in Madison, Wisconsin back in 2005. The studio has produced over a 100 games that cover educational content in clever ways, exploring topics such as genetic diversity and the U.S. judicial system. With such a rich history of specializing in games that teach players real-world knowledge through engaging gameplay experiences, we here at Games for Change thought that Filament was the perfect development partner for Epic Orphan.  

If you want to learn more about Dan’s thought process during game development, check out his recent blog post, and don’t forget to support Epic Orphan and back the game on Kickstarter


Hi Dan, What excited Filament Games most about helping with the development of Epic Orphan?
Dan Norton: Filament’s made a lot of games that focus very intensely on pretty formal learning outcomes. Filament was/is really excited to dive into an “awareness” game, and to use a comic/narrative approach to push out a lot of the message. Trying new stuff is cool!

So far, what external research did your team do in order to prepare for the development of Epic Orphan?
DN: Diving into a lot of government documentation, and following up on all the great source material Yvette provided was a lot of fun but very satisfying work. Somewhat tangentially it led me to find this British guidebook for field agents from WWII, which was super cool.

What is the most shocking thing you learned about nuclear weapons/orphan sources from your research during development so far?
DN: I think the most shocking thing to me was finding out about the stolen material incident in Goiânia: a medical center was shut down, and thieves stole the nuclear material, leading to many deaths and illnesses. The idea that nuclear material is in widely varying amounts of oversight and regulation around the world is pretty troubling, and to be frank I had no idea.

Has there been any previous Filament games that also explores issues around nuclear weapons or energy, or is this a first? What other types of games does Filament build?
DN: Filament developed a game called Energy City, which explored different power sources and research, which incorporated nuclear power as one of the options. Filament has made tons and dons of games that all are focused on positive impacts for their users- they range the gamut of games about ocean science, empathy, punnett squares, bar exams, civics….

Looking at Filament’s portfolio, there seems to be a large number of puzzle and simulation games. Epic Orphan, on the other hand, is an episodic adventure game that has a stronger focus on visual narrative. What are some of the challenges of creating a game like this?
DN: I like to think of narratives in games as another one of the tools in the designer’s toolbox. Narratives are powerful for providing context and promoting empathy. Empathy and context are obviously deeply tied to the goals of Epic Orphan- we want you to know about these issues in context, and we want you to care! The challenges are of course that storytelling is a superpower in its own right, and takes a separate level of focus and talent aside from game mechanics.

The pitch for Epic Orphan came from Yvette Chin, the winner of last year’s N Square Game Design competition. Yvette’s research background stemming from her work at the National Security Archives gave her expert knowledge around nuclear weapons issues – in what ways did you collaborate with Yvette to interpret her written concept into a fully designed experience
DN: In the prototype, the minigames were developed off her initial proposals for interactions that would integrate into her broader story. We also used her extensive source documentation as reference for the game’s background and context. The prototype came out of a lot of feverishly paced iteration on script and art, and Yvette was a huge help in making sure we could get the story to hang together and work in our prototype scope and timeline. Yvette is awesome.


About Epic Orphan
Last month, we launched our Kickstarter campaign for Epic Orphan, the nuclear risk game that won our N Square Game Design Competition. This episodic adventure game hopes to raise awareness to risks related to nuclear weapons today and will put players in the shoes of a government agent on a globe trotting adventure to keep “orphan sources,” or unregulated radioactive materials, from falling into the wrong hands.

Hear more from Epic Orphan’s creators in our Q&A series: Creator and writer Yvette Chin.




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Why we’re getting serious about nuclear weapons with Epic Orphan

Why are we focusing our current game project on nuclear weapons? Aren’t those not really an issue since the Cold War ended? North Korea’s missiles can’t even reach other countries, right?

In short, no! Upon partnering with the N Square initiative, we learned how pervasive the nuclear threat is, from the 11,800 nuclear weapons around the world to the untracked orphan materials that could be used to make even more weapons. (Not to mention a certain U.S. presidential candidate who has said he’s not afraid to use them!) So we launched a new initiative and partnered with Filament Games to develop a game that helps make conversation around nuclear weapons mainstream: Epic Orphan.

One year ago, Epic Orphan won our around nuclear weapons as the winning concept from writer Yvette Chin. Now, we’re turning to Kickstarter and crowdfunding the creation of this episodic adventure-puzzle game.

In the year since Epic Orphan won our N Square Game Design Challenge, Ploughshares Fund Director of Programs Paul Carroll has provided our team with in-depth background knowledge and key context around nuclear securities issues. He recently gave us a brief overview of the state of nuclear weapons in North Korea, whose weapons have gone from not-even-able-to-cross-the-ocean to a viable threat in a few short years.

Have any more questions about nuclear weapons and how Epic Orphan aims to portray these issues? Ask away in the comments or on Twitter with #EpicOrphan.


Why is the the issue of nuclear weapons in North Korea is so serious right now?

Paul Carroll: North Korea’s nuclear weapons are no longer a joke or something that “may happen” in a decade. It has stepped up the number of bomb and missile tests, and even though they may seem to be weak or “fail” the experts’ conclusions are that we have to assume they have several bombs and that some can be put on missiles that could reach South Korea, Japan or perhaps even US territory.


What are the potential outcomes or scenarios with North Korea?

Paul Carroll: While most agree that Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, is provocative and unpredictable, they also agree he is not suicidal. So, it’s not that we are worried he would launch an attack out of the blue. Instead, we are worried that the next time there is some kind of small conflict between North and South Korea – and they happen often — or when US military exercises happen there, there would be confusion that could lead to him launching an attack. Or, that the regime in Pyongyang may decide that they could sell their nuclear know-how or materials to someone — another nation or even a terrorist group. Given how stretched for money North Korea is, their nuclear expertise could bring them needed cash.


How will this be expressed in Epic Orphan? What choices will players face?

Paul Carroll: Suppose that you are visiting China, or maybe Myanmar. Or even that you are a nuclear investigator for the UN. During a visit to the region, you discover some unusual crates with radioactive markings, or notice Koreans in Rangoon or eastern China. Why are they there? As you begin to look into it, you find that Chinese front companies or maybe Burmese criminal networks have helped smuggle materials out of North Korea. This is not a fantasy, this has happened with conventional weapons and other illicit materials. What if it were nuclearbomb ingredients?!  What would you do?  Who would you call? How much time would you have?



Interested in learning more? Back our Kickstarter and spread the word about Epic Orphan! Thank you for reading!

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The Second G4C Student Challenge Kicks off with Professional Teacher Development Across Three Cities


Last month, nearly 70 teachers in in New York City, Pittsburgh, and Dallas joined our second annual teacher training as part of the national G4C Student Challenge and learned how to teach a game design course in their classrooms, using curriculum from our partners Mouse and Institute of Play.

Our cohorts included librarians, teachers of math, social studies, English and history, special education teachers, and several tech and computer science teachers. These educators hailed from 66 schools across all three cities (and all five boroughs of NYC), 40 of which receive Title I funding. Half of the teachers were women. We even saw a few familiar faces, as five teachers returned from our pilot 2015-2016 G4C Student Challenge program in New York City.

Throughout the two days of training, teachers received structured, in-depth professional development in game design and game-based learning.


The teacher training started off with an introduction from our partners at the Institute of Play, who helped teachers understand the parts of a game that create an engaging experience by letting them modify tic-tac-toe rules. Teachers also created and prototyped their own board games based on one of the three Student Challenge themes: Immigrant Stories, Future Communities, and Climate Change. The next day, Mouse assisted teachers in fully realizing the course materials and development tools they’ll use in order to teach a 20-week game design program within the 2016-2017 school year. The teachers then spent time with the programming language Scratch, remixing pre-made Scratch games with new sprites, sounds, and mechanics.


Now, these teachers are prepared to empower their students to learn how to design games and create their own games for change. We look forward to seeing their students’ game submissions to the G4C Student Challenge in Spring 2017!

G4C’s national Student Challenge game design competition launched in October 2016. Students in public schools in each city are eligible to submit games, which are due in April 2017. More information and game making resources are available at www.gamesforchange.org/studentchallenge.

To get involved as a participant or partner, please email us at studentchallenge@gamesforchange.org.

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Meet the creator of nuclear risk game Epic Orphan: Q&A with Yvette Chin



“I hope I give players a sense of how pervasive these potential sources of nuclear risk are. They’re in everyday places and everyday objects. This extends beyond national borders and makes us all connected in ways we may not care to accept.” – Epic Orphan creator Yvette Chin


Last month, we launched our Kickstarter campaign for Epic Orphan, the nuclear risk game that won our N Square Game Design Competition. This episodic adventure game hopes to raise awareness to risks related to nuclear weapons today and will put players in the shoes of a government agent on a globe trotting adventure to keep “orphan sources,” or unregulated radioactive materials, from falling into the wrong hands.

We recently chatted with Epic Orphan’s creator, Yvette Chin, about her thought process and background for making her winning pitch for the N Square Game Design Challenge. Hear all about the origins of Epic Orphan and then back the game on Kickstarter to play it first!

How did you learn about the N Square game design competition?
Yvette Chin: I had subscribed to the Games for Change mailing list some time ago, first just out of curiosity. Then, as the G4C challenges came into my mailbox, I hoped and hoped for one that was in my wheelhouse. When I got the email alert for the N Square game design competition, I practically fell over! Seriously! Then, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

What was your main inspiration for the creation of Epic Orphan? What inspired you to design it to be an espionage thriller?
YC: I’ve just always loved spy thrillers, heist movies, and mystery/true crime. I totally knew I couldn’t innovate in terms of mechanics and that I had to put as much as I could into narrative and plot. I thought about how I could make a resource management or a strategy game, even toyed with a dark comedy idea, but it just felt natural to go with a spy thriller and an adventure game of some kind.

What about orphan nuclear sources interested you to make it a starting topic for the game?
YC: I really wanted to do something that put twist on what people think of when they think of nuclear risk. I think what most comes to mind are classic Cold War superpowers with nuclear arsenals. But the world is very different today, and the sources of nuclear risk have multiplied. Even if there are still vestiges of the Cold War everywhere around us, the atmosphere of terror has a very different shape, a different feel.

Some of the planned episodes for Epic Orphan are based on nuclear incidents. Which real-life story or archival item interested or shocked you the most?
YCOh, there are a few (Damascus accident, Able Archer 83), but I can’t get this one incident out of my head because it was just last year. It’s this stolen truck in Mexico that I stumbled on. Turned out that the thieves didn’t know the truck contained nuclear material, and so they got sick. I don’t know why, but I just can’t shake the idea of how accidental and yet how totally “everyday” that incident was. Trucks are stolen all the time. This one just happened to be carrying nuclear material, and it’s not the only incident like this.

You have a background in national security? How did that help you with your N Square competition submission?
YC: In a previous life, I studied Cold War history at George Washington University and worked briefly at the National Security Archive, a nonprofit advocating for government transparency. Because of my background, my thoughts often turn to security issues even though I am no longer in those communities. Reading into government docs, always looking for that smoking gun, trying to piece together, not just the events, but the living people behind documents (with all their faults)–I guess these are all now weird parts of my personality that were revitalized with news of the N Square competition.

What key messages do you hope Epic Orphan to convey about nuclear security by the end of its narrative?
YC: I hope I give players a sense of how pervasive these potential sources of nuclear risk are. They’re in everyday places and everyday objects. This extends beyond national borders and makes us all connected in ways we may not care to accept.

How has collaborating with Filament Games changed your view on game development?
YC: Wow, there’s a lot that goes into making a game that I had no clue about. Like, how to make a game challenging but not impossible or how to prototype quickly. One of the lessons I learned early on from Filament was to think about “where” the message or learning objective resides. While in some game mechanics, you learn in the process of playing a particular mechanic, in other cases, it’s the narrative that sends the message. Dimensions like this are something a person like me would just never think about, and the conversations I’ve had with Filament have kinda blown mind!

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Charitybuzz Auction: Entrepreneurs, gaming experts, and tech leaders unite to support Games for Change

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Our Charitybuzz auction is live!
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We’re auctioning some amazing experiences on Charitybuzz as part of their Entrepreneur Auction! Bidders have a chance to spend the day with game industry legends and social good innovators, from chatting over coffee to getting out of the office and pumping iron at the gym. Here’s a new way to support Games for Change while getting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet industry icons!

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And don’t forget …
Want to support Games for Change outside of the auction? Our crowdfunding campaign for nuclear risk game Epic Orphan is live and seeking funding. Learn more and back it on Kickstarter.

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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 sara@gamesforchange.org.

Videos of sessions, workshops and keynotes are available on the G4C YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/gamesforchange

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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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