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Games for Change: How students are leading the charge for positive social change

President Susanna Pollack discusses the organisation's mission and how it's enabling students to lead the charge for social change
Games for Change: How students are leading the charge for positive social change
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Games for Change is a non-profit organisation which has a stated mission to empower games creators and innovators to drive real-world change using games and technology. The idea is to help people learn, improve their communities and contribute to making the world a better place.

The group's big event is the Games for Change Festival in New York City, which was held this year on June 17th to 19th. Here, more than 1,100 professionals are brought together to explore how games can be used for good beyond just entertainment.

Not just this event though, the organisation runs a Student Challenge Competition across the US. This year the contest ran in New York City, LA, Atlanta and Detroit - the winners of which you can find here.

This year's themes included Automated Communities 2050, Disrupt Aging: Implications of Living to 100, Endangered Species, and Envision Gender Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

Winners included Healthy Habitats, where animals must be guided through dangerous habitats to conservation sanctuaries; Prolong, a point and click game in which users complete various tasks pinned to their bulletin board to live to the age of 100.

To find out more about Games for Change, its mission and how its Student Challenge works, we caught up with the organisation's president Susanna Pollack. Why do you think games developers are well-positioned to support positive social changes and learning? And why is it important that developers consider these values?

Susanna Pollack: Video games are a multi-billion-dollar industry with a massive consumer base that includes people from all ages, genders, and nationalities.

With a multitude of gaming platforms ranging from consoles to smart devices, games are a pervasive presence in our everyday lives.

All of these factors put games developers in the ideal position to leverage their craft for social impact and learning, even more so than creators of other forms of media.

What is the Student Challenge Competition, how does it work and what’s the goal for both Games for Change and the participants?

The Games for Change Student Challenge is a national game design program that combines students’ passion for games with digital learning and civic engagement.

The goal of the Challenge program is to expose and excite students to work-related opportunities in STEM and game design, while engaging students and teachers in civic issues impacting their communities.

The 2018 to 2019 program ran in NYC, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Detroit. It includes professional development in game-based learning for over 25 teachers per city, in-school and after-school game making courses supported by curriculum partner Mouse, student game jams and workshops.

It also includes mentorship for students provided by professional games designers, social issue themes with digital resources provided by cause-based partners, and a culminating game design competition.

The winners of this competition are celebrated at awards ceremonies in each city and receive scholarships funded by our partners, technology and experiential opportunities.

How do you choose your social impact themes and why are these important?

Our themes are really the heart of the students’ games. Each year we identify three to five social issues that are relevant on both a national and local scale and partner with amazing organisations who provide rich content for students to use for research.

This year we worked with General Motors and the National Association of Minority Architects on an Automated Communities 2050 theme, with AARP on a Disrupt Aging theme, National Geographic on an Endangered Species theme, and the Mayors Office of New York on a Gender Equity, Diversity & Inclusion theme.

Themes are heavily inspired by current events, but we also take student interest into account.

Are you partnering with games companies for the Student Challenge?

Games companies have a very important role in the program, lending their support and providing inspiration for young, aspiring games designers.

Take-Two Interactive is one of the program’s funders and has generously provided scholarships for competition winners for two consecutive years. Ubisoft and Schell Games have also contributed exciting prizes to Challenge winners and Riot Games has participated as a field trip destination for our LA students.

This support makes the students’ work in the Challenge and dreams of becoming a games designer feel even more important and achievable.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

We are already preparing for the 2019 to 2020 Student Challenge, which will launch this fall. We’d love to talk about partnerships with games publishers, studios and other organisations that would be interested in our program and our mission.