Ten years ago, 40 people created a small community with the realization that games were becoming a powerful medium for instigating social change. From there, the nonprofit and movement Games for Change was born. After seven years of dedication to using digital games to have a positive impact on the world, G4C is now a global event.
Asi Burak, founder and president of Games for Change, said that in his community games are treated as a medium, not as entertainment; similar to books, documentaries and theater.
“They are becoming powerful, winning the philanthropic competition and time, and reaching to a wider audience that doesn’t delve into it,” Burak said. “[The games] will become much more diverse and they have interactive qualities with different perspectives.”
And of course, there is a wide array of platforms for games, including mobile devices. Even in developing countries it is hard not to come across at least one phone in each household. So, are cellular phones a big tool in aiding social change with games?
“Mobile is a great choice when you're looking for direct action, location based services, and accessibility," shared Burak. "At the same time, mobile has its limitations and it is challenging to rise above the noise. There is a lot of competition in the app store. However, any gaming platform is relevant. It is more a question of what audience you're trying to reach and whether the selected platform is appropriate or not.”
The Games for Change arcade showcases the games that are the most successful. On average, more than 800 people attend the Games for Change Festival. The question then arises, how do they approach a wider and more diverse audience? This year the annual G4C Festival will partner with the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, which is providing interactive opportunities for content creators to reach the next generation. Through this event, Games for Change will reach over 100,000 people.
“There are many perceptions we need to break about gamers versus non-gamers, and games only being for kids, or only for entertainment," said Burak. "Games are becoming available everywhere, some are very close to our hearts."
There are countless games that are being used as a medium for social change, but two examples are PeaceMaker and Gone Home. The former is a game of choices, challenging the player to establish peace in the Middle East. It is inspired by real events, uses real news headlines, and allows the player to choose an Israeli or Palestinian perspective. Gone Home represents a new generation of games exploring personal stories and connecting to the LGBT community.
An interesting change Burak points out is that for many years games were being submitted to the G4C Festival by NGOs, but this year it's young designers that are making these games, not for money, but to make a difference in the world.
“As the sector evolves, the people who create the games and the people who fund them are looking into different impact goals. Some games are created to raise awareness, others to change behavior. There are games that focus on civic learning and others that amplify existing programs," said Burak.
The gaming industry itself is growing every day. We can thank Games for Change for revolutionizing and shedding light on integrating games and social change.