Gamasutra attended this week's fourth annual Games For Change festival in New York, and in this latest exclusive feature presents the most comprehensive coverage
of keynotes and panel reports on the burgeoning sector of games with a social agenda, including insight from Microsoft exec Jeff Bell.
In this excerpt, writer Leigh Alexander comments on some of the challenges to socially conscious gaming that were presented during the event, a topic that was addressed by GameLab co-founder Eric Zimmerman:
“Much was made at the Games for Change festival of the potential in the idea of using games to spread a message and motivate an audience to action. But the movement has more to do before their initiatives—and, concretely, their games—can actually be called successful.
Most notably, activists and academics are not game designers; when polled, only about half the conference attendees identified themselves as active gamers. A major issue raised in discussion was that while the message is essential, the priority still needs to be solid design and engaging gameplay.
“The games that we’re seeing—and I think we all sort of share this frustration—are not really fulfilling on the promise of what brings us to conferences like this, what makes us work on this field,” said Eric Zimmerman, co-founder of GameLab. Zimmerman cautioned against activist designers who, in their eagerness to convey a positive socially-conscious message, judge certain aspects of gaming as “bad”—for example, the conflict, the hyperstimulation or the addictive qualities—and attempt to siphon those elements out of the games they make.
Zimmerman noted that much of games’ pleasurable qualities are actually derived from those elements, and designers of socially-conscious games can make more effective products by embracing the nature of games, rather than combating them.
“We need to understand our medium better,” Zimmerman advised. “Animation and virtual words are fine, but we need to think about games as games—there are very basic issues we should all be thinking about as we try to marry the activist agenda to the work that we’re doing. Is ‘not sucking’ any kind of criteria for thinking about doing cultural work that’s meant to have an effect on the culture at large?” “
You can now read the entire feature
, which includes a comprehensive overview of the recent serious games event, including insight from Sun Microsystems' “Chief Gaming Officer” Chris Melissinos and Serious Games Initiative co-director Ben Sawyer (no registration required, please feel free to link to this column from external websites).