Social impact games and news games (livestream blogging from #g4c2011)

It’s day 2 of Games for Change 2011 (aka #g4c2011) which is livestreaming its Mainstage Panels.

Games for philanthropy

This morning’s session of the Game for Change 2011 festival started with a Keynote on philanthropy.

Increasingly, casual social games  (Zynga, Farmville, Cityville, etc) are participating in fund raising for chronic and acute crises (chronic hunger, disaster relief respectively).

The right venue?
An audience member asked: Do casual games gives the impression that serious issues are actionable through simple actions? (e.g., get vocabulary questions right and give a bowl of rice to people). The speaker answered that it’s just a first step and this opens a door to an opportunity that allows greater engagement and provides some people an entryway that is very easy-a first step for people who might not otherwise participate. Raising awareness is still valuable and raising funds can have an impact. The FreeRice 100K players generate 2,500 meals/day and  Zynga has raised >10 million for non-profits according to the speakers. (I haven’t checked these numbers.)

On a different level there are serious games like Darfur is Dying designed to create empathy and understanding by direct, interactive experiences. Which type of game is capable of having more of a direct impact? The take-home seems to be there are multiple avenues into these problems and if people are going to play casual games anyway why not provide them with an opportunity to do something meaningful.

The second panel was entitled: “Engaging the News”
How can we use games to raise awareness of current events and social issues?

Andrew DeVigal, multimedia editor at The New York Times, started his talk by an often repeated quote: “Tell me something I will forget, show me something and I will remember.” He modified this by saying “Involve me and I will understand.” DeVigal spoke about how interactive storytelling can be used to create such involvement.

Engagement interactives:

  • Distracted driving simulations-simulated driving while texting
  • You vs computer: AI simulation as you play rock, paper, scissors.
  • Fix your budget: Users become involved in scenarios to fix the budget

Andrew DeVigal commented that we need to leverage a culture of innovation to engage news readers. Lessons learned: The challenge is finding the sweet spot between journalist truth and accuracy and game play.

Rudy Bednar, Executive Producer, ABC News All Media, described how his group is partnering with USC to develop a game, “1000 Days” to spur interest in global health, including maternal health. (The first 1000 days are the most important days for an individual to develop properly.)

The game is based on the observation that four main leadership groups  affect a country’s health:

  • industry
  • NGOs
  • community leaders
  • government

Leadership groups react to intervention ideas based on their individual perspectives. The game interface in 1000 Days brings proposed interventions to a particular group which responds.

Game design challenges:

  • What are the core messages/learning objectives?
  • How to make this idea fun and easy to understand?
  • How to create good interactions with the appropriate feedback

The speaker urged designers to change their approach and to put their initial focus on the objectives (a weakness in the current game field is that the focus is first on mechanics).

As noted by Chris Swain, CEO and Founder, Talkie, games for change are challenging and you need a diversity of organizations/partners to get a broad reach. The mechanics of the game need to communicate the message. He talked about the importance of being able to take good social impact games to create models for other games given the amount of effort required to create them.

As noted by Tom Scott, Director, Global Brand & Innovation – Communications, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the starting point needs to be to start by asking: “What do we need to achieve?” and then ask are games the right way to do this?

Misc comments in response to questions:

  • Want players to have a good interactions but still portray the complexity of situations
  • Why games? Complex global issues are not getting covered. Games create more engagement among people who don’t have the engagement of those who work in the field.
  • If learning is the objective, calls to action, etc., we have to look at complexities of game design: How best to accomplish learning and impact?
  • Games can offer opportunity for data collection, using social media to share game solutions

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