This week, I had the good fortune to drop by the annual Games for Change festival in New York City. The event explores how we can better use video games, social media and mobile phone apps to affect social change. (The video above does a pretty good job of explaining what it's about.) I attended a number of the talks and seminars, and a keynote address by Al Gore -- but the highlight was getting to play the games themselves.
They ranged from educational games designed to get youth interested in the world's oceans, strategy games bent on engaging folks on climate issues, and apps built to encourage recycling and tree-planting. Here's a look at some of my favorites, and interviews with the developers behind them:
One Ocean Interactive
In this educational ocean-exploration game, which was launched alongside a Canadian documentary series helmed by David Suzuki, players navigate the world's underwater ecosystems and immerse themselves in an interactive learning experience. They can choose to simply poke around and learn about the different species that populate the deep, or they can play arcade-style games in which they reduce trash and pollution.
Play the game at One Ocean Interactive's website.
Fate of the World
We've written about Fate of the World before, and I had the chance to play it a bit before the festival. The game has a fantastic premise: You're in charge of global decision-making, and you have to figure out how to reduce emissions enough to prevent catastrophic climate change, and prepare humanity to adapt to the warming we'll see irregardless. Here's the trailer:
The player must decide between limiting consumption and ramping up clean energy development, and try to help the developing world grow while keeping a lid on emissions. Get more info at the official Fate of the World site. It's good fun, and certain to please strategy game aficionados--whether or not they care about the climate crisis.
You may have heard about the Zaballeen, the now-world-renown group of Egyptians that have become impressively adept at recycling -- they recycle a full 80% of the trash they collect. This game teaches by their example, helping players learn how to recycle different materials more efficiently.
This game isn't strictly 'green' per se, but Participatory Chinatown is a game/tool that promotes a hyper-democratic way of engaging residents in city development.
This was my favorite "game", as it utilizes technology to forge a very real step forward -- and a distinct improvement -- in the way we carry out community decision-making processes. Something like this could indeed change the way we engage with our neighborhoods and better understand our neighbors.
So that's a brief look at some of the games at G4C this year. There were others I heard about through the grapevine, but didn't get a chance to play -- the Facebook game Ecotopia was chief among them. It was nonetheless an eye-opening look at the ambitious art of working to improve the world through social gaming. It's a young art indeed, and many of these games provide for a cute way for players to engage with serious issues -- but it seems like we've still got a long ways to go before such games will effect large-scale social change.
However, tools that employ digital technology to make the democratic process in communities more engaging hold real potential to do exactly that -- which is why Participatory Chinatown, and similar programs like Betaville, are seriously awesome. A more robust digital society is certainly in the cards for human society, and soon -- events like Games for Change do well to explore the possibilities it holds.
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More on Games for Change
Top 5 Eco Video Games (Video News)
" Fate of the World " Shifts Gamers' Focus Toward Battling Climate
Al Gore Weighs in on Extreme Weather and Climate Change (Video)
Games for Change 2011: Video Games, Apps & Al Gore