Next week is E3 and I COULD NOT BE MORE EXCITED! I’ll have plenty of news in the next few weeks for everyone and will be live tweeting during E3 June 5th – June 7th, as well as posting on my fan page. Make sure to stop by and check out the fun!
Directly following E3 is yet another important Gaming Festival called “Games for Change“. As the largest games gathering in New York City, the 9th annual Games For Change Festival will take place June 18th through June 20th, and is one of the leading global events focused on leveraging entertainment and engagement for social good. The event will culminate with an awards ceremony honoring games in four categories – Most Significant Impact, Most Innovative Game, Best Gameplay and “Knight News Game”.
With rockstar keynote speakers Nolan Bushnell (Founder of Atari and Father of the Video Game Industry) and Jane McGonigal, the 2012 Festival is sure to be a memorable one.
I got a chance to interview Games for Change co-president Michelle Byrd regarding this notion of gaming for good. She is a veteran non-profit executive who has been awarded the “Made in New York” career tribute by Mayor Bloomberg and appeared on both Variety’s Annual “Indie Impact List: 50 Who Made a Difference” as well as The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment “Power 100” List.
Hi Michelle, thank you talking to me! Let’s start off with my standard question: What is the first Video Game you recall playing and how has it changed you as a person?
Okay. How not to date myself too much on this one… The first video game I remember playing is Pac-Man. Arcade style. The arcade equaled freedom. A drop off at the mall and time to wander around and be self-directed in my choice of entertainment and friends.
I love that… that the arcade equalled freedom. How did you initially get involved with “Games For Change”?
I had just stepped down from my position running a non-profit independent film organization. I wanted a change. I wanted to be involved in supporting media that was trying to make a difference in the world. Sometimes “Games for Change” related popped up in my Twitter feed. Whatever they were tweeting about intrigued me so I did some investigating. A couple of weeks later I was in Soho having lunch with one of the founders and learning about something that I had no idea about – the intersection of games and social change. By the time she started telling me that the organization was developing a game based on a book I was obsessed with at the time – Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky - I was hooked. I met Asi Burak, a game developer, and a couple of months later we had an opportunity to team up and put ourselves forward as a new leadership team to run the organization as Co-Presidents. Kind of crazy how organic the whole transition has been.
The term “Games for Change” intrigues me. How does your organization determine whether or not a Game is, in fact, a “Game For Change”? Does a game have to display a particular moral compass, and if so, by which standard is it being judged?
We don’t have a moral compass, at least I hope that we don’t. We’re pretty broad in terms of what we view as a “game for change.” As the game expert of our duo, Asi has really lead the way on this front. The games tackle a myriad of genres and subjects – from public health to the environment to politics and a whole lot more. Some invite inquiry and deeper exploration of a subject or issue, some seek to have a direct impact or prompt behavior change. Some are much lighter in tone. Loosely speaking, the games we support and promote are those which aim to leverage entertainment and engagement for social good.
Of the Games nominated for awards, by what process do they become finalists?
We have a fantastic woman named Hsing Wei who served as our Awards Manager. She was responsible for managing a total of 35 members of the Nominating Panels. On the first round I believe that each panel received between 10 and 12 games. The second round reviewed 4 or 5 games each. So our nominees had to advance through two separate rounds to make to the finals. We really want to underscore and celebrate excellence which is why there was such a rigorous review process.
Over 67 Games were submitted this year, but only eight were chosen to be finalists across four categories. Are there any standout Games for you that didn’t get nominated?
That’s a bit of kissing and telling I can’t participate in, unfortunately. We love all of our nominees equally!
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to young, socially-conscious, game developers?
Stick with it. Take advantage of every networking opportunity. Delve in and out of different communities of designers and developers to see what each has to share. Coming from film, I’m used to seeing lots of struggling emerging content creators as they find their footing. What seems different for young game developers is the lack of an on-going structured ecosystem which supports independent work and provides accessible ways to help reach players and an audience. That’s something Asi and I would like to see Games for Change help make a difference on for those young developers interested in social impact games. The self-organizing tools we provide, in particular, the Games for Change Meetup Everywhere platform, has made it a lot easier for discovery of others in your community interested in games and social change. And if you’re in NY during the Festival (June 18 – 20), we’re always looking for volunteers. It’s a great chance to expand your network. You never know who you’ll meet.
The Games For Change Festival this year looks fantastic. What activities are you most looking forward to at this year’s festival?
Convergence. The best and most unique feature is the sheer convergence of ideas, people, causes, passions. It’s a committed crowd coming from numerous disciplines – game designers, developers, publishers, cause owners, academics, non-profits and NGOs. It’s the convergence of worlds which don’t necessarily interact in a daily on-going basis. That’s part of what’s exciting. We’re still in the early days of “games for change” so there are a lot of people poking their heads in and exploring and creating compelling work.
Oky, okay, okay… If you could totally forget about work and responsibilities for an entire day, what’s the one game you’d love to dive into?
I’m completely prone to falling down rabbit holes. The phrase “diving in” brings to mind Flower, a mesmerizing and unexpected treat.
Thanks you Michelle, we wish you the best of luck at this year’s Festival. For those of you interested in live tweeting during their event, you can use the hashtag #G4C12. You can also follow Games For Change on the official Games for Change Twitter account:@G4C.
Featured Image Via: Games For Change
Additional Images Via: Richard Koek on MichelleBird.net