Games for Change: ‘social impact gaming’ celebrated at New York festival

The Games for Change Festival, New York City’s largest gaming event, gets underway next week, celebrating the innovation and development of ‘social impact’ gaming.

Founded in 2004 and now in its 11th year, Games for Change hopes to “facilitate the creation of social impact games“, as well as promote, educate and “leverage entertainment for social good”.

The annual festival will feature an assortment of gaming experts and guest speakers working in the gaming industry across the globe.

During the course of the three-day festival (April 22-24), and the one-day (26 April) outdoor public arcade at the Tribeca Film Festival in Lower Manhattan, speakers will present their gameplay visions, inventions and ideas, and explain how they can bring about social change.

There will be a range of talks, panel discussions and game demonstrations covering many different themes, including how to design and engage commercial games for social impact, as well as gender inequality in games and gaming culture.

Experts like Noah Falstein, chief game designer at Google, will discuss the rapidly evolving technology, and look at the implications this evolution may have on the Games for Change approach.

Midway through the festival, a Games for Change Awards ceremony will take place, which looks to pay tribute to those individuals who have made the greatest contributions to games that do social good. There will be winners from each of the categories for the year in most innovative, most impactful and best gameplay, and a further one winner for game of the year.

On this evening, a game changer award will be presented to Dr James Paul Gee for his work on the learning attributes in digital games, and how ultimately video games hold the ability to have a real impact on people’s lives.

Photo: Joao Paulo via freeimages

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Social Media and the Attainment of Fantasy

In this issue I will be discussing how social media has transformed the types of experiences that tourists now find themselves engaged in. Moreover, I will be suggesting that these transformations have caused an explosion in the number of simulated experiences that are now on offer to tourists. In order to do so I think it is imperative to first reflect on the vast academic material that has been written on simulations, and more specifically hyperrealities. Jean Baudrillard was the first real exponent of the concept of hyperreality with his work “Simulacra and Simulations”. Jean Baudrillard diagnosed that the proliferation of information and technology has had a phenomenal impact on the way that individuals consume products and services. He later added that the consumption of too many fictions has greatly reduced our perception of what is deemed as real. This is reflected in contemporary tourism as many tourists have become immersed in seeking out authentic experiences. However in attempting to seek out authentic experiences they have in turn been met with more and more fictitious experiences. Therefore, many of these tourists are now failing to recognise and comprehend the realism of their encounters.

We are very much living in a highly visualised culture and a simulated induced world. This can be illustrated using the examples of the film and gaming industry. Showing in the cinemas and on T.V are films like BladerunnerThe Matrix and Minority Report which illustrate the complex nature of the hyperreal bubbles that consume us. Notably this has continued in recent times with the release of films such as Inception and Limitless. In terms of the film Limitless just imagining working at that level of intensity is a difficult enough task for many of us. Even the latest television programmes like “Black Mirror” involve the intensification and replication of completely unimaginable events. The gaming industry can be utilised to illustrate the difficulty in establishing a difference between the real and the fake. Bart Simon emphasised that games are represented as a matter of simulation, and specific games like Medal of Honor merely distract us from games of the real. This post-modern society has instinctively created brand new versions of the simulated experience, and has therefore expanded the hyperrealities that currently exist. I believe that advancements in technology like social networking sites have driven a remarkable interest in film induced tourism. Social networking applications like Foursquare tend to display information about where films are set. For example, when you check in with Foursquare at the University of Lincoln you will find that part of the film Possession was filmed in the Faculty of Media, Humanities & Performance building, back when it was the University library. Likewise films such as The Da Vinci Code have boosted Lincoln Cathedral’s income and generated significant increases in visitor numbers. Another example of this is Blairquhan Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland; this was the setting for the 2005 film “The Queen”. Blairquhan Castle was used as a substitute location for Balmoral Castle. This castle has become a popular attraction for American visitors who are interested in learning about the history of the British monarchy. I believe that this experience would not be possible without the expansion of the way information is mediated, via the internet and through social networking sites. These applications have acted as a resource and they have given users more information at their immediate disposal. However, the sharp rise in technology has resulted in this highly visualised culture, where the information that is being presented is distinctly lacking in depth.

In summary, the desire to consume and the expansion in technology has been the driving force behind this post-modern contemporary society. As a consequence, we as a society have created our own hybrid version of the Matrix, and we are naturally immersing ourselves in an elaborate simulation. More importantly, we are seeing a rapid deconstruction and diminishment in the beauty of the authentic. Gradually, this graphically simulated world is slowly descending into a virtual game, which is being played simultaneously on a number of levels and intensities. Individuals are failing to make distinctions between real life experiences and sophisticated replications. Moreover, the responses that we give are being controlled and configured by this simulated environment. Social media has transformed the types of encounters that tourists are now being exposed to. In particularly, we are transcending into a profound virtual hyperreal bubble, which is unsurprisingly lodged in an artificial world.