Last week I had to go to Paris. I HAD TO! It was for work. Yeah, I can hardly believe it either.
We recently built a game for the local charity Safe@Last who do amazing work with and for young people in South Yorkshire around issues relating to homelessness. I went to speak at Games For Change Europe as part of Futr En Seine. It was a day for game designers, makers, teachers and developers in Europe working in the field of games for social change to come together and share their projects and experiences – all brought together by Jean-Michel Blottière who has been working to unite the community for a few years.
The game we’ve made for Safe@Last isn’t quite live yet but it is the first project that we’ve produced that aims to have a social impact. For more information about the game we made, you can find my slides here. Games with a social impact are something that we’re interested in and I jumped at the chance to go and talk about it in Paris (it being in Paris did help the decision a little) because I wanted to try and learn more about the market and how other developers have approached similar projects. We’ve since been able to do another game in this field for Terrence Higgins Trust and the benefits of doing this kind of works are amazing. Not only did we get to learn about positive work these charities are doing but also try to help them achieve their goals is immensely satisfying.
The day was amazing, it was jam-packed with people in and around Europe working on games for social change or that are intended to have a social impact. I can’t cover it all but the highlights for me were…
Stéphane Buthaud of HumanoGames spoke about their efforts to build an alternative Facebook game. It’s very much in the Farmville mode but the in-game currency ‘Happy Cash’ can be spent on in game items, as micro-loans to your friends to help them get started in the game or you can opt to convert them from virtual currency in to actual micro-loans for real people via Kiva. The intention of the game is to teach people about and promote micro-loans but also through sponsorship hopes to make and actual difference to people lives. The game presents you with real people from the Kiva site who need small loans to help them restock or expand their small business but banking or traditional finance routes are not available to them. I’ve since realised that this game is not on its own. There are other similar Facebook games such as WeTopia but it’s certainly the great implementation of the concept – converting the hours spent working at long term management games on Facebook in to genuine social change.
Prof. Dr. Michael Wagner spoke about his experience of designing games for the classroom. It was really interesting to see how he had tackled the much-discussed on the day issue of Learning versus Fun. A lot of the speakers recognised that there needs to be a balance struck between teaching and what is fun. As Michael said, game design is an iterative process and this doesn’t always lend itself well to formal learning but can be very useful for procedural learning. He demonstrated Ludwig, a physics game that aims to introduce students to the way physicists think, that he was involved in the development of. Notably Ludwig was specifically developed with high immersion and slick graphics in attempt to make it feel like game rather than a learning tool.
Andrew Nash presented his Facebook game that aims to educate the public about town planning. Based on the concept that empowering the people who know a transport system the best (ie – the people who use it everyday) to understand the constraints put on town planners, together they can create greener city streets by making better public transport systems. I love the idea of this project. Andrew said they were looking for some support in developing the project further and I hope that he finds it.
As well as coming together to share our work, the purpose of this get together was so that Jean-Michel could find out from us if we felt there was a need for a separate entity to the main Games for Change organisation based in the US. They’ve just held their annual conference there in New York (if you haven’t seen it I recommend watching the key note speech by Jane McGonigal it’s a very enlightening and quite a personal insight in to how games like this can help people). From listening to the other speakers, I think that there is certainly enough interest and I think there are needs mostly for economic reasons – personally I would love to have been able to go to New York this week but it’s expensive in both time and money. The live stream this year has been really good but it’s still not the same as being there to focus on the event and talk with like-minded people, I think a local organisation might help more with support and forming a network. Regardless of what happens I am definitely looking forward for the chance to meet up with this community again, I feel very honoured to have been invited to be part of it.
Especially if I get to go to Paris again