Conference Background

Games are quickly becoming a mainstream form of media, just as film did decades ago.  Read more about the increasing relevance for social change on our Why Games page. 
Our organization, G4C, was created just one year ago by a group of forward-thinking nonprofits.  You can read about what we’ve done over the past year on the About G4C page. 

Last year’s conference was an invitation-only exploratory event; this year, due to increasing demand, it will be open to the public. Over the past year, G4C has achieved increasing visibility by hosting events at the largest industry conference (E3/Los Angeles/Ed Arcade), the largest developers’ conference (GDC/San Francisco/SG) and the new academic roundtable on Games, Society and Learning (Madison, WI) -- plus the umbrella conference on Serious Games (SG Summit/D.C.).  Meanwhile, the Games for Change discussion list has grown to several hundred members, with satellite chapters established in three cities, and more in the planning stages. We have members from almost every state and from more than 15 countries.

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PROGRAM Overview

This year’s conference will bring together non-profits and their partners in game design, the arts and academia from across the U.S. and overseas to explore best practices for social change, open source gaming technologies, successful distribution models, and more. It will also be a day to discuss industry partnership opportunities and will allow ample opportunity for networking and the sharing of resources.

In keeping with G4C’s commitment to innovation for a better world, the conference will be action-oriented, provocative, original and fun. Set in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, the food will be spicy and Spanish (with a few milder options of course); the funder’s panel is stocked with strong foundations and business development groups; the “Games Expo” will be a lively and informative showcase of the best in social change games; there also will be a game design session by the industry’s leading innovators and authors – Eric Zimmerman and Nick Fortugno of gameLab.

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DETAIL: Friday, October 21




Growing the “Serious Games” Sector. Ben Sawyer (Digital Mill, Serious Games Initiative)

When the Serious Games Initiative was developed and launched in 2002, few anticipated the breadth and depth of future interest. The roots of the Initiative are diverse and many are unexpected for those in social justice movements – but the power of collaboration is being quickly established. Ben Sawyer oversees the Serious Games Initiative, an organization and umbrella group that seeks to provide community and support to those making non-entertainment games; he is also on the advisory board of G4C.


KeynoteClay Shirky has been described by Wired Magazine as “a consistently prescient voice” on technology’s social affects.  His broad and insightful vision has explored everything from blogs to peer-to-peer networks.  Shirky’s writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review, and he has been heard on both the BBC and NPR. He is currently teaching in NYU’s department of Interactive Telecommunications. 


Open Independence: New Models for Indie and Activist Game Development    Panelists: Katie Salen (The New School), Bill Tomlinson (UC Irvine), Celia Pearce (UC Irvine and Buckminster Fuller Institute’s Spaceship Earth Game); Clay Shirky (ITP)  Moderated by Celia Pearce (Celia Pearce & Friends)

Due to the constraints of the commercial market, and the limited funding availability for non-profit projects, activist game designers must take a grassroots approach, creating new and innovative guerrilla development models to get the job done.  Artists and activists alike are inventing new methods and exploiting open platforms to create cost-effective projects that would, in the past, have been prohibitively expensive to produce. New trends in “moddable” game engines, open and semi-open tools streamline production time and cost. Open frameworks fit within the activist agenda, reframing issues of IP and "ownership" to create more collaborative work models. Further, new games are also being developed with open architectures to engage players in collaboration, expanding both agency and activism through play.




A “birds-eye” view on G4C Suzanne Seggerman


Social Issues Games Overview, Ian Bogost (Persuasive Games, and Georgia Tech)

Public attention toward so-called "serious games" has increased exponentially in the past several years. The promise of games that educate, train, and heal people has served as a much-needed salve for any medium that is often, and sometimes unfairly, reviled for its rather limited set of goals and experiences. But there is an important and unspoken problem with serious games -- they often, if not always -- seek to service or reinforce existing structures of power -- schools, businesses, government and military organizations, hospitals and clinics. In this talk, I will identify a different goal for videogames -- what Gonzalo Frasca and I have been calling "videogames with an agenda." These games seek to undermine or question our current way of understanding and interacting with the world. They seek to drive social change rather than servicing the current social order. I will first provide a way of thinking about how videogames with an agenda work, and then I will show numerous good and bad examples of such games.




Breaking News from a peer NYC conference: State of Play III Beth Simone Noveck (Institute for Information Law and Policy)


Breakout Sessions on Emerging Opportunities & Challenges facilitated by Barry Joseph (Global Kids, Games for Change)

This is our opportunity to break-up into smaller groups to gather around topics proposed and led by conference participants. Do you want to meet with participants who are interested in a particular topic?  Is there an issue you want to discuss? Is there an area you need help with? This is the time to either suggest something you want to lead or pick from the wide-range of discussions that emerge. After groups meet, groups will be invited to share back to the group.  Some of these groups may become SIGs or G4C satellite groups.


Funding Perspectives Connie Yowell (MacArthur Foundation), Chinwe Onyekere (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), Allyson Knox (Microsoft) Franklin Madison (ITAC).  Moderated by Suzanne Seggerman (Games for Change, Web Lab)

Digital games are a new medium – using them for social change is newer still. Funders viewing this new arena will discuss their insights, discoveries and concerns as they learn more about digital games and their relevance to programs for social change. 




Funding Perspectives: New Initiatives
Stephen Friedman (MTV), Brad Lewis (Learn & Serve America), Jean Miller (Center on Public Diplomacy/USC), Cathy Fischer (ITVS). Moderated by Benjamin Stokes (Games for Change, NetAid)

How can funders with a specific social goal ensure they get a useful game? Each of our panelists will report on a new funding initiative; several have been announced in the past 30 days. Learn why most of this group has chosen an open-invitation or contest mode to generate proposals.

5:00pm- 7:30pm

"Games Expo" (Includes Multiple Simultaneous Demonstrations)

The best in social change games will be highlighted.  Try a game yourself, chat with the designer, or even offer to partner for distribution – it’s up to you!  Featuring the games presented on the panels, the games of the panelists and conference participants and other social-issue based games.  More game demo applications are pouring in each week, and we’ll publish the full list before the event. 

5:00pm- 7:30pm

Cocktail Reception

Eat, drink and play games… what could be better?

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DETAIL: Saturday, Oct. 22




Opening Remarks & Discussion: How to Match Funding to Design, Social Change and Partnerships


Featured Game: The UN’s “Food Force” Zach Abraham (World Food Programme)

Food Force is the game that is sweeping the nation – a game about poverty and food rations – downloaded by more than 2 million people within the first 2 months.




Theories of Change (TOC) Medard Gabel (BigPictureSmallWorld) and Bob Runyan (Real Lives)

Many proponents of serious games believe they can affect positive social change, but to claim success, one must be able to evaluate impact. Business owners, foundations and nonprofits increasingly articulate their "theory of change" (TOC) to explain what's behind their social change design. 

How do things change? Every game, like all of life, deals with change.  How do systems change? Is it evolution, entropy, initiative, investment, imagination, communication, attention? How do we influence and/or bring about (political, economic, organizational, personal, etc.) change? What is common in change processes? Whether it is "quasi- stationary equilibria," feedback loops, or the tipping point, what brings about change, how do we model it, how do our games show and use it?  This program will feature software programs (Real Lives and a new program written just for this presentation) that illustrate various types of change from a variety of perspectives.


Game Design for Change  Nick Fortugno and Eric Zimmerman (both of gameLab)
Can game designers treat “social change” as just another constraint?  In this hands-on workshop, we’ll tackle the problem with some of the most innovative minds in the industry.  (Nick is the lead designer of the hit game Diner Dash and Eric is the co-author with Katie Salen of the recent Rules of Play – the definitive book on game design.)

Emphasizing the practical, we’ll examine questions including the relationship of rules and play, learning and games, emergent complexity, social interaction in gaming, and other game design methods. This is not a standard sit-in-your-seat lecture, so come prepared to play like you mean it!


Results from the In-Conference “Challenge”
Moderated by Marc Prensky (Games2train)

Witness the results of 24 hours of in-conference brainstorming. See the solutions our community has proposed for matching well-established social change movements with new games. Half design, half business pitch session -- we might uncover the next big thing. After the conference, these results will be published online and pitched to nonprofits and designers alike.




Condensed Rant’n’Rave, (moderated) For twenty five minutes, we’ll give anyone 60-seconds at the mic. Challenge the audience to live up to a brilliant vision, rant about the industry, or offer a matching grant to Games for Change.  The community speaks!  Sure to be a crowd-pleaser (or crowd-provoker).


The Future of our G4C Community of Practice in 30 Minutes


Final Networking Break


State of the Art: Emerging Modes of Partnership
Kris Soumas (Lifetime TV), Eric Zimmerman (gameLab), Jerry Paffendorf (Acceleration Studies Foundation). Moderated by Benjamin Stokes (NetAid, G4C)

Partnerships are essential.  But it’s not easy: new business models seem to emerge every month and often with strange bedfellows.  Hear a few grimy stories, a little of the cutting edge over the past six months, and most importantly: hear how you can make the right choice.  Hear an update from a field leader in the silos of partnerships with: academics, big-budget NGOs, grassroots groups, public school districts, artists, and more.  Finish with hands-on tips on how to leverage a community of practice to stay up-to-date at all times. 


Results from the In-Conference “Challenge”
Moderated by Marc Prensky (Games2train)

Witness the results of two days of in-conference brainstorming.  See the solutions our community has proposed for matching well-established social change movements with new games.  Half design, half business pitch session -- we might uncover the next big thing.  After the conference, these results will be published online and pitched to nonprofits and designers alike.


Enjoy the rest of your stay in New York!

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Games for Change aims to bring together non-profits and their partners in government, industry, and the arts to explore the use of digital games for social change.