How do games function as social media? Should documentary film folks pay attention to gaming? I went to the Seventh Annual Games for Change Festival (G4C) in New York City to find out. I quickly discovered what so many people in the audience already knew--that games are an integral part of the social media landscape. Panelists challenged not just game developers but all new media makers to go beyond assembling spectator audiences to establishing concrete action plans for social change.
Aneesh Chopra, first ever US Chief Technology Officer, gave a keynote address that emphasized the role of innovation for sustainable economic growth. Chopra told the audience that in order for the US to be competitive we need all hands on deck to reach young people, thus highlighting the White House's "Educate to Innovate" campaign "to improve the participation and performance of America's students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)." STEM was a reoccurring theme throughout the festival, mentioned as part of a number of education-oriented game initiatives. Colleen Macklin on the "Power of Design: Youth-Created Games" panel urged the audience to expand the acronym to STEAM, with an A for Arts. Macklin is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Design and Technology at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City and Director of PETLab, a joint education project between G4C and Parsons. PETLAB is a unique collaboration that explores strategic uses of games for public interest engagement.
Other distinguished speakers included Nick Bilton of the New York TImes Bits Blog, game designer guru Tracy Fullerton, Associate Professor in the Interactive Media Division of the USC School of Cinematic Arts and Laird Malamad, SVP of Production, Guitar Hero, just to name a few. The conference achieved an impossible number of speaking spots by interspersing one-hour "Future of Digital Media Talks" in between in-depth panels, where media experts covered everything from the rise of e-readers to the value of love and emotion in game design.
One of the biggest takeaways from G4C for the CSM community would have to be the media world's latest buzz word, "transmedia." Transmedia is why gamers should talk to documentary folk and vice versa. Kumar Greg of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy asked the G4C audience, how do you make your games matter and what is the public role in gaming? Media makers for social change are asking themselves the same questions and seeing the intersections--transmedia--achieve results as highlighted by a number of presenters.
At the very core, media begins with a narrative that brings audiences together. The next step for social change is reaching out to those audiences through the most appropriate avenue. According to Sara DeWitt, Vice President of PBS Kids Interactive, the number one destination on pbs.org is the games page. Subhi Quraishi, CEO of ZMQ Software Systems in New Delhi, India is leveraging the enormous penetration of mobile devices in the developing world and creating mobile phone games that raise awareness on HIV/AIDS, prenatal care and domestic violence. In the words of keynote speaker Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, using media strategically gives us "beautiful and practical solutions" for social change.