Last week I began my run as an intrepid reporter for g33kWatch, and my first assignment was the Games for Change Festival. What is Games for Change and what do they do? I don’t want to bog you down but their mission is to “Catalyze Social Impact through Digital Games” and they do a much better job explaining it than I could so go here, www.gamesforchange.org, if you want to learn more. Basically, it’s a showcase of panels and discussions highlighting games and gaming that is trying to make the world a better place. Games that raise awareness, educate, assist teachers and help deal with all sorts of problems. If I list off everything that comes to mind or that I saw, here and now, there won’t be anything to write about so I’ll leave it as a broad teaser.
G4C13 was held June 17th-19th, 2013. If you’re reading this site you probably saw that I was livetweeting the event as it happened. I am guessing my excitement at what I was seeing was evident. It is also the reason I took a step back and delayed starting my full write-ups. This festival took me down the rabbit hole. It got me excited, energizing me for my other work (take a gander at the staff bio if you need context), and got me thinking. I think that in the end is the point of G4C. It’s to get you to think what else games can do beyond just entertaining. Also, I ended up taking a lot of notes and wanted to whittle them down and make what I wrote sound good to your eyes. Let’s go to G4C13!
“Hearts, Minds, and Exotic Matter” – G4C13 Opening Keynote
Michael T. Jones, Google’s Global Tech Advocate delivered the opening keynote. Michael is one of the people responsible for a little something called Google Maps. He quipped about the fact that “something started in my living room is now being used by One Billion people.” Talk about a way to show that something you do can make a difference and have a huge impact on the world. The main thrust of Mr. Jones’ presentation was to delve into, what I can best describe, as a culture game that gets its “players” out and about to experience the world not just from behind a computer or smart-phone screen. Ingress is the latest endeavor from Niantic, the people I just mentioned above that let us know where we’re going and where things are we want to go to.
Ingress wants you out and about experiencing art, culture, and interacting with real people. If you want to see how it’s working I suggest checking out the links above and see if you can get in on the beta. When the “game” is described as “you are Pacman and the culture of the world is the energy pills you eat,” how can you go wrong? I’m not here to shill and I don’t want to spoil too much but the production value and support they are giving Ingress looks tremendous. In my opinion the most exciting part of this is that Ingress is being developed as the test subject for the Niantic Gaming Platform. The potential for adaption of the platform for educational and social gaming looks great.
The first panel I hit up was Minecraftedu with Joel Levin from Teachergaming. I wish I had my camera out to take pictures of the slides from this presentation. Pictures of kids in classrooms playing Minecraft with PURE JOY on their faces. If I felt so uplifted by seeing this from the audience of a panel, I can only imagine what it must feel like to be the teacher in a classroom getting through to your students. Minecraft is a game that crosses age and gender to appeal to everyone. In a world where so many of our games are destructive it is a truly constructive game. There were some amazing videos of what teachers are doing with Minecraftedu, http://www.youtube.com/user/EduElfie is just one example of a great channel. If you are looking for a way to engage your students or kids, as a parent or teacher, this is worth checking out.
Can you create a game that destroys humanity and accidentally helps educate over ten million users? That’s exactly what James Vaughan did with his mobile game Plague, Inc. Your goal is to kill off the entire population of our nice little planet by spreading a disease across the globe. Built on real world models and data, the game ends up teaching or promoting outside learning about things such as geography (i.e. climates, demographics), economics (i.e. global trade routes/hubs), and biology (I mean you get to create your disease – symptoms, transmission, mutations, and so on).
Not only is Plague, Inc used in classrooms and hospitals but James has been approached by, and is working with the Center for Disease Control, or as some of you may know it, the place they blew up at the end of season 1 of Walking Dead. The CDC is even involved in the expansion plans for Plague, Inc and has partnered with Ndemic Creations.
This is a great example, that if you create a game that is based on real world information, with a depth of play, you can help educate without even trying to. Making the complicated accessible and working with a relevant subject matter has its perks. Also, it’s kind of cool to destroy the world and learn how these things would happen in real life. Did I say cool? I meant utterly terrifying.
Conversation with Stacey Childress
Stacey Childress from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation took on the topics of personalized learning and games in education. Tina Barseghian from Mindshift led the panel and the discussion focused on how learning environments can be tailored to individual students and what role games/gaming can play in the process.
Good fact: according to the latest SRI study which looked at thousands of previous reports on gaming & education, children in learning environments do 12% better than those not in such situations. Bad fact: Out of the immense number of reports used as the data, only 77 met strict enough criteria in relation to their research factors to be considered scientifically good/accurate enough data to be utilized. In other words, we need studies conducted at a higher standard so we can get a better idea of the effects of the gamification of education. We all have these assumptions about what gaming can do to help educate. This conversation was about shoring up the information, research, and science behind these assumptions and what is needed to validate where the education-in-gaming movement is going.
I think that’s a good place to stop. Day One isn’t done yet but this is a lot of info to take in. There are many panels I did not get to on this day or the other two. Hopefully I’ve given, and will continue to give you, reasons to check out these things on your own. It’s is worth your time to see what gaming can do to make the world a better place. More G4C13 to come, be back soon!
– Eugene Weber