The COVID-19 Cataclysm, or Preparing for Crises through Games

Games for Change is excited to introduce a new blog series written by diverse members of our community. In this series we will be discussing the different ways they are using and thinking about games to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. Authors will be sharing resources they are using in their home, virtual classrooms, offices, and more!
 
This blog post was written by Elizabeth M H Newbury, Director of the Serious Games Initiative at The Wilson Center
 
When I imagine world-shattering events, I think of 2010. I’m not talking about a natural disaster or pandemic. I mean World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, when a giant dragon named Deathwing swept over the game, breaking the world we had come to love pixel-by-pixel. For the non-WoW players out there, you missed out on how eerie it was to explore a game world you had been playing for six years transformed in a full-on Armageddon. A broken Earth.
 
But this is not the way our cataclysm has gone. The landscape has changed, not in dragonfire, but in a sneeze and cough. Now I hear echoes of a different WoW expansion, The Burning Crusade. There, the heroes of Azeroth were told in a much less-long-winded way by the big bad of that expansion, Illidan Stormrage, “You are not prepared.”
 
The same could be said for our real-world cataclysm, COVID-19.
 
In the field of educational games, this was not for lack of trying. Games have tackled disaster preparedness, especially in natural disasters, like earthquakes or hurricanes, informed by lived-experience, research, and a desire to ensure we were more prepared next time. And they are not only about building step-by-step responses like instruction manuals; board games like Cards Against Calamity — a game the Wilson Center developed with 1st Playable Productions, the Environmental Law Institute and support from NOAA — highlight that there are multiple pathways to both building responses to a disaster, as well as ensuring we are building resilience to help mitigate the next disaster
 
For COVID-19, I am struck by how we could have been more prepared both in what tools we had available to us to understand what we are going through, and in adapting to the “new normal” we find ourselves in.

Playing at Pandemic Science, Policy

There are a number of existing games that can be used as learning tools about the COVID-19 crisis, or are being developed as such. I wrote about several of them at the beginning of the U.S. response. Additional resources (such as these from PAX Sims) are becoming available as the crisis continues.
 
No single game can do everything, but to tackle a pandemic, educational outreach falls into two approaches. First, there is a need to learn about the science of disease and transmission. I previously highlighted You Make Me Sick!: Bacteria and Viruses Learning Game, funded through a grant reward from the Department of Education, as one potential model for addressing this; another game that may serve as a model is Alpha Beat Cancer. Through storytelling and creative mechanics, these games make concepts such as disease transmission, mutation, and treatment accessible, engaging and fun. They allow the player to be an active participant at a molecular level — something we cannot do in reality — and do things like guide the pathogen to the respiratory system or steer white blood cells to fight cancer. They build understanding by making science come to life
 
Without this baseline of scientific understanding, it is hard to appreciate the scope of policy options in response to a pandemic or be certain about what policies to enforce. The newly-launched Outbreak Squad, funded through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, uses historical food outbreaks as villains to illustrate cross-sector policy options. The game not only shows an array of policy options and what their individual (abstracted) impact may be, but also demonstrates how balancing them is vital to outbreak response.
 
It is this duality that is important to building a resilient response. Resilience is a powerful buzzword in the policy community, evoking a combination of both being prepared and capable of springing back from everything from a cyberattack to a natural disaster. Resilience often indicates infrastructure preparedness, clear processes, and cross-sector collaboration that supports a common ethos of wanting to be able to respond to and diminish the impacts of a threat, as well as get back to standard operating procedure.
 
In this case, it means both being prepared for an outbreak in a multilateral way that brings together research, education, healthcare response and regulatory enforcement. This combination is a needed narrative in any games being developed to highlight the policy response to threats like a global pandemic. At the same time, a truly resilient response requires knowing not just what we can do, but why we are doing it – and thus a greater need for scientific education as part of building preparedness.

Future Directions for Resilience Through Games

Returning to the taunt of Illidan Stormrage, there may be ways we could have been more prepared for COVID-19 that go beyond game content. As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, we should be taking notes on broader considerations of how games can be mobilized to create a more resilient future.
 
One of the quickest responses to COVID-19 was gamified tools to tackle the epidemic itself — not in an abstract sense, but in a way that directly supported researchers. Platforms like Foldit and Eterna demonstrate how you can mobilize gamification to crowdsource solutions for a pandemic. These platforms allow you to manipulate the proteins or RNA of the novel coronavirus, distributing this task to a broad audience. As solutions come back, this empowers researchers to test different models and — we hope — develop a vaccine sooner.
 
It shows that educational games do not need to be confined to the classroom. Which is good, particularly in a situation where the classroom has been moved home. Another rapid response was making learning tools available: when the crisis hit, the Institute of Education Science at the U.S. Department of Education put together a list of 85 educational technologies funded across government agencies that are now available online at no cost until the end of the school year.
 
Making these learning tools available is a high call to action. COVID-19 has illustrated that the assumptions we make in developing educational games needs to be re-evaluated. For example, we need to consider how we can develop games that can be used easily and seamlessly by a non-expert audience. Think of parents teaching children at home, who may not be subject-matter experts nor know how to apply a lesson plan. We need to make their lives easier.
 
Crucially, the pandemic has renewed conversations about the digital divide and unequal access to resources at home. These issues are not new to COVID-19 by any means, but it does need critical attention. A potential model for how to design for low-resource situations is Yale University and Parsons The New School for Design’s Humans vs. Mosquitoes, a scalable game that can be played as a game of tag to a printable board game. Another example, although not a game, is the Smithsonian Institution’s Journey through an Exploding Star which shows how you can design a learning module for everything from VR to a browser experience. This shows that designing multiple ways to experience the learning material does not have to limit the technology used, but does make the material available for multiple means of access. Game designers should be thinking of ways to innovate in this space
 
If we are to be prepared for future crises, we must be taking notes on how we were caught unprepared this time around. We must look for ways that we can empower audiences across the nation in order to help weather storms — both of the natural disaster type, as well as the pandemic — so we are prepared in the event of another cataclysm. Otherwise we are our own worst enemy.

Connection Through the Power of Games

Games for Change is excited to introduce a new blog series written by diverse members of our community. In this series we will be discussing the different ways they are using and thinking about games to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. Authors will be sharing resources they are using in their home, virtual classrooms, offices, and more!
 
This blog post was written by Susan Rivers, PhD, Executive Director and Chief Scientist at the nonprofit iThrive Games Foundation.

 
Games hit us where we are human. Gameplay is social. It is emotional. It is intellectual. I’m inspired to see that stories in major news outlets which once warned of the dangers of video games have been replaced with stories of how video games can carry us through a quarantine of undetermined length, supporting us in the fear and loneliness that for many of us has been unknown. Gameplay is entertainment, and it also keeps our minds active while providing a space for friends and family to meet and share joy, collaboration, and competition. Games can help us escape the confines of our homes and travel to new lands, both realistic and fantastical. I’m finding much needed connection, joy, and some new superpowers in games right now.
 
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we all live, work, learn, and play. My home office now includes my three children (ages 7, 11, and 14), in addition to my husband, who runs a school and is working all hours to foster community across and between hundreds of students, families, and educators. Now, more than ever, games are a powerful tool for creating connections amongst us as a family and also with those from whom we are physically distant.
 
One thing we are learning from being home together is that it’s about just that–being together. While my children have their schoolwork to complete, mixing both online interaction and working on their own, over the last three weeks we have seen that being together and giving the kids our focused attention is integral not only to their sense of well-being but also to their ability to learn. Playing games together—tabletop and digital—is one way we do this. My youngest and I begin each day playing a game together over breakfast. In the afternoon all three kids hop on Minecraft or Fortnite with cousins and friends. We filled a hat with slips of paper, each with the name of a game written out; at night we draw from a hat to find out what game we will spend the evening playing together. Games bring us together, regardless of differences in our ages and interests.
 
At iThrive Games Foundation, the organization I lead, we use games and game design to equip teens with the skills they need to be healthy and resilient, the tools that support and protect their mental health and well-being, and the systems thinking they need to recognize inequity along with meaningful opportunities to imagine and design a better world.
 

 
Learning doesn’t happen without connection. Our touchstones at iThrive are games, social and emotional learning, and teens. Woven into that fabric is connection. As families are home and parents and teachers do everything in their power to support students’ continued learning, organizations like ours will turn toward bringing classroom offerings online for distance learning. While we do that, we can’t forget that relationships and connection help drive deep learning. At iThrive, as we look to adapt our game-based curriculum and our simulation game, we are ensuring that any changes reinforce the same pillars of a warm, supportive environment that we adhere to in person.
 
And it’s not just learning as usual that we want to support. Our staff is asking, how can learning — and working — be supported in the midst of a pandemic? The circumstances are different now. It’s learning and working amidst stress, anxiety, grief, and the sense of loss we all feel about our usual rituals, routines, and milestones.
 
How can we lean into social and emotional skills to help navigate these times?
 
Supporting one another socially and emotionally is more important than ever. Finding creative ways to support one another from afar, knowing that our social and emotional well-being bears on the quality of work and on the quality of learning across the lifespan, especially in times of stress and uncertainty. Make time to hold regular weekly check-ins–with your work colleagues, with your family, with your friends. We prioritize these check-ins with our remote iThrive team. They are about connecting on a human level; getting to know more about each other, how we’re coping, and what practical and moral support we need. In conversations and in our Slack we share photos of our pets and families, recommend games we’re playing at home and virtually, and reflect on things we’re doing outside of work time to nourish and care for ourselves. Social connections are critical during this time.
 
With that in mind, we know many parents and teachers want and need guidance for how to connect with and support their teens. We know that now is not the time to enforce tight limits on teens’ connecting with friends on screens whether that’s through video games, FaceTime, or social media. This is the only way teens are able to stay in connection with their friends during physical distancing; and, during adolescence friendships are critical for healthy development. Teens need to be in connection with their friends regularly; their well being depends on it.
 
We also know that not all adults are gamers or know how to support their teens playing video games. We have some tools to help.
 

  • Our tips for being curious about games teens play encourage openness to learning as a way to shift the conversation from reprimanding (e.g., “Get off your devices!”) to genuine interest and connection (e.g., “what characters do you most enjoy playing?”).
  • Need some ideas for games? We created iThrive Game Guides because we know sometimes the entire family does not play video games. It can be hard to know how to join in or even have a conversation about games if you don’t play. The game guides include discussion prompts to spark connection and meaningful conversation between game players and those who love them.

In what ways are games helping you during this challenging time to take care of yourself and be connected with others? I’d love to hear from you.
 

 

My First Week with Remote Teaching

Games for Change is excited to introduce a new blog series written by diverse members of our community. In this series we will be discussing the different ways they are using and thinking about games to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. Authors will be sharing resources they are using in their home, virtual classrooms, offices, and more!
 
This is a guest blog post written by Steve Isaacs

 

 
I teach game design and development. Teaching my classes remotely works pretty well as I teach using a quest based / choice based learning environment that I run through Classcraft. I also created a Discord server for my classes so that we can have a place for persistent conversation among the class and create separate channels for different topics / projects. I have my students complete a simple google form each day to respond to several simple questions:

  • What did you work on today?
  • How challenging did you find the experience?
  • What are your goals for tomorrow?
  • Questions, comments, concerns?

This provides a simple way for me to assess student participation and learning (and take daily attendance). I can take a quick glance and see what everyone has been working on and if there are questions I can reach out to the child directly. Students can also reach me via email, discord, or our messaging system in Classcraft
 
In addition, I have been live streaming to Twitch two to three times a day to showcase content creation tools and invite special guests to participate. I share the opportunities with my students but also market the opportunity to educators and students around the world via Twitter. So far we have been averaging 20 to 30 viewers at a time and the recordings are shared to YouTube afterwards.
 
I have been collaborating with a number of educators including Stephen Reid, Kevin Caja, Cathy Cheo-Isaacs, Mike Washburn, and Erik Leitner. Erik started to develop a series of COVID-19 Minecraft build challenges. Cathy and I have been working with Erik to add challenges and contribute to the livestreams sharing the individual challenges. I have a number of other guests lined up including Adam Clarke, Mark Suter, developers from the game, Crey, Tom Shannon from Epic Games, and more!
 
I am grateful to have the support of participate.com and Mike Washburn in terms of producing the live streams as it has allowed me to focus on the content while Mike does a brilliant job of managing the cameras, screen shares, etc. That has been going super well and I only foresee it getting better. I love the opportunity to connect with others through the stream. It provides us with a vehicle to keep in touch, interact, and learn with and from one another. I am a big fan of constructivist learning and believe this really allows for that in a way that is harder to accomplish in a classroom with a closed door. We are also using Streamyard. It allows for up to 6 participants to be live and on camera as well as easy screen sharing. We are looking at other options as well in order to potentially include additional and possibly more robust features but I am very happy with what we have been able to do so far.
 
I hope this helps others to create meaningful ways to meet their students during this challenging time. I keep saying, that the very positive unanticipated outcome of all of this is that it is forcing us to move forward with ways to connect and deliver instruction. Once we are back in schools we will have new and exciting ways to enhance teaching and learning that can extend far beyond our classroom walls.

We’re Hiring: Communications Intern



Games for Change (G4C) is looking for a communications intern to support a range of projects promoting games for social impact this Summer. Candidates for this unpaid internship should meet the qualifications and requirements below.

Candidates for this unpaid internship should meet the below qualifications and requirements.

Position Details:

  • Support G4C Staff (Communications Manager) in outreach and communication activities across range of game development projects
  • Conduct research on games, game related programs, articles, tech opportunities and interventions, and game developers
  • Communicate / Outreach to partners seeking support with impact game projects and lease with game developers, funders, researchers, and evaluators
  • Compile contact lists and research contact info
  • Compose copy for social media posts, overview documents, and concept decks
  • Aid in creating graphics and collateral for social media posts, events and more

Key Qualifications:

  • Very reliable, self-motivated and proactive
  • Passion for and interest in social impact games and video game development (production, design, & development)
  • Highly organized and detailed-oriented
  • Strong copywriting and editing skills
  • Proficiency in Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, InDesign, After Effects and Premiere Pro a plus!)/li>
  • Experience with WordPress and Mailchimp a plus
  • Strong communication skills and ability to work with remote teams/li>
  • Desire to share Games for Change’s mission


Requirements:

  • Weekly commitment of 20-30 hours/week, plus participation at G4C events; minimum of 12 weeks. Start date May/June 2020.
  • Position based in New York.
  • Internship is for school credit only. Applicants must be enrolled in a college or university level program and be eligible to receive school credit


To Apply:

    To apply, please send an email with the subject line “Communications Intern” to Marissa Harts, Programs & Operations Manager ([email protected]). Please send your resume as an attachment and include the following information in the body of the email:

  • Availability (hours per week)
  • Location/Where you are commuting from
  • School, program and expected graduation year


About Games for Change
Founded in 2004, Games for Change empowers game creators and social innovators to drive real-world change using games that help people to learn, improve their communities, and contribute to make the world a better place. We convene stakeholders through our annual G4C Festival and foster the exchange of ideas and resources through workshops and consulting projects. We inspire youth to explore civic issues and learn 21st-century and STEM skills through our Student Challenge and train educators to run game design classes on impact games. We act as an amplifier by curating and evangelizing games for change to the public through our games arcades and awards.

We’re Hiring: Production Intern



Games for Change (G4C) is looking for an intern to support production efforts for the organization. The intern will support projects related to event planning and management as it relates to core G4C initiatives such as the G4C Student Challenge and XR for Change. The intern will report to G4C’s Production Manager who leads on supporting the organization in cultivating, building and nurturing strategic relationships and alliances that are essential for advancing and successfully achieving the mission of G4C.

Candidates for this unpaid internship should meet the below qualifications and requirements.

Position Details:

  • Work with G4C Production Manager to produce all aspects of live events in NYC across various G4C initiatives, including the G4C Student Challenge and XR for Change. Examples of events include game jams, arcades, panels, and awards ceremonies.
  • Tasks include scheduling, coordinating with venues, managing Eventbrite listings, researching/sourcing technology, managing database spreadsheets with contact info, and working with ad hoc facilitators as needed
  • Assist in production of the Games for Change Festival, particularly as it relates to online submission form management, website edits, and research related to session curation.
  • Assist in creating and editing documents and presentations.

Key Qualifications:

  • Very reliable, self-motivated and proactive
  • Passion for and interest in social impact games and education
  • Highly organized and detail-oriented
  • Strong communication skills (PowerPoint/Keynote, Google Docs) and ability to work with remote teams
  • Strong English language skills (oral and written)
  • Strong ability to produce high-quality information visually
  • Proven ability to problem-solve and multi-task in high-pressure environments
  • Able to work as part of a team in a constantly evolving work environment
  • Technical background and comfort with the following platforms/technologies preferred but not required: WordPress, Jotform, YouTube, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Google Daydream, Microsoft Surface, Apple iPad


Requirements:

  • Weekly commitment of ~24 hours/week; minimum of 12 weeks. Start date May/June 2020.
  • Position based in G4C’s WeWork offices in Midtown East, New York City. Remote work possible.
  • Internship is for school credit only.Applicants must be enrolled in a college or university level program and be eligible to receive school credit


To Apply:

    To apply, please send an email with the subject line “Production Intern” to Marissa Harts, Operations Manager ([email protected]). Please send your resume as an attachment and include the following in a cover letter:

  • Overview of your interest and experience with video games and/or non-profit organizations
  • Details on any prior related experience, internship or otherwise
  • Availability (hours per week)
  • Location/Where you are commuting from
  • School, program and expected graduation year


About Games for Change
Founded in 2004, Games for Change empowers game creators and social innovators to drive real-world change using games that help people to learn, improve their communities, and contribute to make the world a better place. We convene stakeholders through our annual G4C Festival and foster the exchange of ideas and resources through workshops and consulting projects. We inspire youth to explore civic issues and learn 21st-century and STEM skills through our Student Challenge and train educators to run game design classes on impact games. We act as an amplifier by curating and evangelizing games for change to the public through our games arcades and awards.

We’re Hiring: Programs and Operations Intern



Games for Change (G4C) is looking for Programs and Operations Intern to support a range of projects promoting games for social impact this Summer for G4C and the National Student Challenge.

Candidates for this unpaid internship should meet the below qualifications and requirements.

Position Details:

  • Support G4C staff in daily activities and collaborate on special projects, as assigned
  • Conduct research on games, game-related programs, tech opportunities and interventions, and game developers
  • Help us keep our office organized, and file and scan documents
  • Assist with billing and bookkeeping
  • Assist with In Kind donation outreach and organization for the National Student Challenge and other programs
  • Assist with managing local partnerships, communications/social media, events to promote the NYC Student Challenge program
  • Research new outreach platforms for students and teachers

Key Qualifications:

  • Very reliable, self-motivated and proactive
  • Passion for and interest in social impact games and video game development
  • Highly organized and detailed-oriented
  • Strong communication skills and ability to work with remote teams
  • Desire to share Games for Change’s mission


Requirements:

  • Weekly commitment of ~24 hours/week; minimum of 12 weeks. Start date May/June 2020.
  • Position based in G4C’s WeWork offices in Midtown East, New York City. Remote work possible.
  • Internship is for school credit only.Applicants must be enrolled in a college or university level program and be eligible to receive school credit


To Apply:

    To apply, please send an email with the subject line “Programs & Operations Intern” to Marissa Harts, Programs & Operations Manager at [email protected]
    Please send your resume as an attachment and include the following information in the body of the email:

  • Overview of your interest and experience with video games and/or non-profit organizations
  • Details on any prior related experience, internship or otherwise
  • Availability (hours per week)
  • Location/Where you are commuting from
  • School, program and expected graduation year


About Games for Change
Founded in 2004, Games for Change empowers game creators and social innovators to drive real-world change using games that help people to learn, improve their communities, and contribute to make the world a better place. We convene stakeholders through our annual G4C Festival and foster the exchange of ideas and resources through workshops and consulting projects. We inspire youth to explore civic issues and learn 21st-century and STEM skills through our Student Challenge and train educators to run game design classes on impact games. We act as an amplifier by curating and evangelizing games for change to the public through our games arcades and awards.

We’re Hiring: Festival Production Intern



Games for Change (G4C) Games for Change is seeking a Festival Production Intern to support our NYC team on a range of production needs for the 2020 Games for Change Festival.The ideal candidate will be an enthusiastic and driven production assistant, with experience in event planning and production. This is a collaborative role that involves working closely with the G4C team.

Candidates for this unpaid internship should meet the below qualifications and requirements.

Position Details:

  • Support G4C Festival production team (Executive Producer and Producer) in daily activities across a range of festival development and production projects
  • Conduct research on partnerships, sponsorships, venues, vendors, and technology
  • Draft and communicate outreach to partners, speakers, and sponsors
  • Coordinate speaker travel plans, volunteer outreach, and website content

Key Qualifications:

  • Desire to share Games for Change’s mission
  • Very reliable, self-motivated and proactive
  • Highly organized and detailed-oriented
  • Curious and inquisitive nature, especially when encountering problems for the first time
  • Capable of evaluating which tasks should be prioritized at any given moment
  • Passion for and interest in social impact games and video game development


Requirements:

  • Familiarity with advanced functions in G-Suite/Google Drive
  • Strong communication skills and ability to work with remote teams
  • Experience in event, festival or media production
  • Capable of working efficiently in a fast-paced environment
  • Experience working with interactive media a plus
  • Currently/recently enrolled as an undergraduate or graduate student


To Apply:

    To apply, please send an email with the subject line “ Festival Production Intern” to Marissa Harts, Operations Manager ([email protected]). Please send your resume as an attachment and include the following in a cover letter:

  • Overview of your interest and experience with video games and/or non-profit organizations
  • Details on any prior related experience, internship or otherwise
  • Availability (hours per week)
  • Location/Where you are commuting from
  • School, program and expected graduation year


About Games for Change
Founded in 2004, Games for Change empowers game creators and social innovators to drive real-world change using games that help people to learn, improve their communities, and contribute to make the world a better place. We convene stakeholders through our annual G4C Festival and foster the exchange of ideas and resources through workshops and consulting projects. We inspire youth to explore civic issues and learn 21st-century and STEM skills through our Student Challenge and train educators to run game design classes on impact games. We act as an amplifier by curating and evangelizing games for change to the public through our games arcades and awards.

Kind Words in Uncertain Times

Games for Change is excited to introduce a new blog series written by diverse members of our community. In this series we will be discussing the different ways they are using and thinking about games to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. Authors will be sharing resources they are using in their home, virtual classrooms, offices, and more!
 
This is a guest blog post written by Matthew Farber, Ed.D.

 
Recently, while working remotely from home, I began to play Kind Words. Published by Popcannibal, Kind Words is an online multiplayer game where players send and receive notes of gratitude, kindness, and encouragement from total strangers. It is the perfect game for today’s uncertain times.
 

 
The game is set in a bedroom that appears to be floating in a dreamlike space. Opened like a diorama, when players peer into the bedroom, they see a bookshelf, a bed, and a desk with a writing lamp by a sunlit window. The person sitting at the desk is all of us.

As lo fi electronic music plays in the background (original music by Clark Aboud), paper airplanes sail by. Clicking on one unfolds letters. One I click on today reads, “Life is worth living. You are worthy of all the happiness, joy and love in this world.” Like all of the letters I open, this one is not signed. It was as if the universe itself sent me a note of encouragement.

All of the letters I open have a positive message. There are some chain letters, of course, but nothing toxic. Perhaps it is because of the anonymity of the letters, or maybe it is because this is a game, and not social media. I am in the anti-Twitterverse.

Players in Kind Words can do more than open folded paper airplane notes: You can send letters, as well as reply to other players. I click the button that says “Say Nice Things.” “Today is a new day, seize it!” I write. This interaction is guided by “Ella the Female Mail Deer,” my companion guide through this meditative experience. There is a link on the screen for mental health resources. Aside from MentalHealth.gov and the suicide prevention life line links and phone numbers, two of these resources are gamer-specific—CheckPoint, and Take This.

In addition to sending and receiving letters, players can send and view requests from other players. One I open reads, “I’m sleeping really bad right now because of social distancing and dream about not getting daily stuff to live although the supermarkets are full. Any way to deal with this?” Ella leads me through the response process, reminding me that I can’t solve everyone’s problems. She suggests empathy and validation, which is how I framed my reply. My reward for replying unlocked new songs to the game’s lo fi playlist, and stickers to decorate my digital bedroom.
 

Kind Words IRL

 

 
We all need more kind words in our lives, from strangers, but as well as from friends, peers, and family. This academic school year, I intentionally embedded kindness into my courses. I use Classcraft to model gamification to pre-service teachers. Unlike purely extrinsic systems, Classcraft has learning quests and other features that put self-determination theory into practice. Specific to kindness and gratitude, Classcraft has a new “Kudos” feature, where students can send kind words to peers. As the teacher/Classcraft game-master, I read and approve notes in the game’s dashboard before they are shared with students (a useful feature to moderate what students share). As this is a game, students earn experience points (XP) for sending, as well as receiving Kudos.
 
As all of our courses shifted suddenly to an online-only format, I posted a “Gratitude Check-in” Padlet in Canvas, our learning management system. Padlet is a collaborative online bulletin board where multiple students add thoughts using digital sticky notes. These notes can be anonymous like in Kind Words, as well as moderated, like Classcraft’s Kudos. Above the Padlet I embedded a video from Fred Rogers where he shared his mother’s advice: In times of crisis, when watching scary news on TV, look for the helpers. The prompt in the Padlet then asked students (this was a voluntary activity), “Think of someone that you said ‘Thank you’ to recently. Please share an example of a time you said “Thank you” to someone, and why.” Responses came almost immediately. They were raw and honest. Difficult to read, all shared someone whom they were thankful for.
 
There are, in fact, many resources for teaching and sharing kindness. Recently, Games for Change, supported with Born this Way Foundation and iThrive Games led a kindness and empathy-themed Student Challenge youth game design event. The design prompt was: “Research how kindness impacts how we feel about ourselves, how we feel about each other, and how healthy our schools and communities are. Make a game that teaches people how being kind matters.” For more, visit here.
 
Additionally, there are several online resources on kindness and gratitude. Check out A Time I Felt Grateful from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good in Education, which shares a class discussion activity using sticky notes and reflective prompts. This lesson can be delivered using remote instruction using videoconference tools alongside Padlet or Google Classroom. Random Acts of Kindness is another online resource with lots of ideas on how to put kindness into action. Ideas range from leaving extra quarters at the laundromat to sending emails of encouragement to giving positive online reviews to local businesses.
 
In these uncertain times, we are all in this together. Kindness is infectious, and matters now more than ever. Be kind to one another… and pass it on!

Games for Social Connectedness

Games for Change is excited to introduce a new blog series written by diverse members of our community. In this series we will be discussing the different ways they are using and thinking about games to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. Authors will be sharing resources they are using in their home, virtual classrooms, offices, and more!
 
This is a guest blog post written by Rachel Kowert, PhD and Raffael Boccamazzo, PsyD and Take This

 
Online gamers have been historically portrayed as awkward or loners, riddled with social anxiety, and drawn to lives of social isolation from the rest of society. Part of this is due to the fact that online gaming spaces themselves are branded as “pseudo communities,” as people assume they provide a false sense of social support. That is, people largely assume online communities waste the time that could be spent fostering meaningful, more valuable, offline relationships. However, research tells us these assumptions are untrue. Online games are social hubs which allow us to reconnect with distanced friends and an easily accessible place to make new friends. In times of isolation, it is more important than ever to recognize the error of these assumptions.
 

 
A considerable amount of research has found that the internet provides the ability to foster meaningful social relationships. If you ask players themselves, they will tell you that online contacts are as “real” as any offline friendship. Up to 75% of online game players report making “good friends” within their gaming communities. Of those, between 40% and 70% report regularly discussing “offline” issues with online friends, including concerns that they have not discussed with their offline friends. In other words, people not only view their online relationships as meaningful, online spaces provide a method of communicating important personal topics with others.
 
Not only do online gaming spaces provide an easily accessible social space that can grant access to new friends, but they can also bolster pre-existing ones. Individuals who play online video games with pre-existing friends report a range of benefits. For example, they report less loneliness, greater social engagement, and of a higher quality, with their friends and family than those who played with strangers. In this sense, online games should be thought of as tools that can help to maintain relationships from the convenience of a keyboard or controller, no matter where each of you are in the world (for more on this see here).
 
Just like “offline” friendships, online friendships are capable of producing all the resources that makes them… well, friendships. Researchers call those resources social capital – the physical, emotional, and social resources for which we lean on each other. For example, we might call a friend or neighbor when we need to talk – a social resource. We might go to their house when we need a hug – an emotional resource. If someone needs help moving, the friend who is the first one there with a pizza offers physical resources. Online friends can provide similar resources. Both authors of this article (who live thousands of miles apart) often call each other when we need to talk (social resource). The comfort and advice the other offers when we feel vulnerable or lonely (emotional resource) is invaluable. If one of us needed to move, the other could send over a pizza (physical resources). While there are some things we can’t do thousands of miles apart, that doesn’t make our friendship any less valuable. The social capital is still there.The accessibility of the internet has helped transcend the traditional boundaries which may have once warranted a distinction between offline and online friends. Today, these boundaries are far more fluid, which is particularly advantageous when life’s current circumstances are keeping us more physically isolated. Online games are one of the wonderful, convenient platforms that have transcended these boundaries and helped make millions of new friendships and strengthened existing ones.
 
As our isolation grows by the day in response to the global crisis of COVID-19, games could be key in reducing loneliness and fostering a sense of connection whilst physically isolated in our homes. Knowing this, it is perhaps unsurprising to find that video game play has not been found to be a direct contributor to increased loneliness, regardless of the stereotypical characterizations. Pick a game. Give it a shot. Both of us are planning on playing a lot of the new Animal Crossing game.