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Games and Gamers -- Potential World Changers


Microsoft and the not-for-profit group Games for Change (G4C) this week announced a joint commitment to explore new ways that interactive gaming can impact social issues such as hunger, conflict, racism and environmental degradation. The news came at the 2007 Games for Change Festival held at Parsons the New School for Design.

The collaboration represents the first time a major games publisher has put resources behind the new concept of “public-interest” gaming -- an idea, backers say, whose time has come.

To get more insight in how these two forces can work together, PressPass spoke with Suzanne Seggerman, co-founder and president of G4C, and Microsoft’s Jeff Bell, corporate vice president of Global Marketing, Interactive Entertainment Business.

PressPass: First off, let’s get on the same page: What do you mean by “socially responsible gaming”?

Seggerman: Socially responsible gaming is using video games as a medium for creating and encouraging social change. Over the last several years we’ve seen a number of really exciting projects emerge in the interactive gaming world. These are games and projects that take the best art and science of digital gaming and apply it to a whole new purpose.

Some of the most interesting games I’ve seen recently tackle the economics of oil production; alternatives to conflict and war; the tragedy in Darfur, and they all identify ways you can take action in the “real world.”

Bell: At Microsoft, we couldn’t wait to get involved, because the category is such a perfect intersection of our business and technology strengths with our corporate passions. We believe we have the responsibility to make a positive impact on the world and we know we can use gaming as a powerful means to help make the world a better place.

PressPass: What is the Games for Change Festival?

Seggerman: The Games for Change Festival is part intellectual symposium, part game emporium. We’re in our fourth year of bringing together academics, game creators, nonprofits, business executives and activists to discuss the impact of games on our culture, evaluate the potential for new genres of socially minded video games and, of course, experience the best new games in person at the Games Expo.

Bell: And that’s definitely the very best part, seeing some of these amazing games and what they have to offer. But, you’re right; this is a very unique venue for us; one that allows us to be on the forefront of a major change in the game industry where video games help raise important issues and effect positive change.

PressPass: Why is this partnership important to Microsoft?

Bell: This partnership is an important part of Microsoft’s ongoing commitment to responsible gaming. Already we’re putting a lot of effort into educating parents about game ratings and safe gaming with our “Safety is no game. Is your family set?” campaign. This partnership is another step in expanding the application of gaming to include new types of content with a purpose beyond entertainment. I’m personally quite passionate about the potential these kinds of games have in raising consciousness among our gaming community and I am convinced that these games, and the folks who play them, can make a difference.

Socially responsible gaming is a movement we can’t ignore. It’s compelling and exciting, and I believe this partnership has the power to make a positive impact on the movement, the games industry and the world. And I want to be a part of this change.

Press Pass: What are Microsoft and Games for Change doing specifically?

Bell: Well, a big part of this partnership is a new, socially minded gaming competition we’re calling the “Xbox 360 Games for Change Challenge.” The purpose here is to incentivize students to create games, using Microsoft’s XNA software, that drive awareness of social themes. This year’s competition is set to begin in August, and will challenge high school and college students in 100 countries around the world to create the best game based on a theme of global warming.

Together we’re awarding the top three teams, or individual entries, scholarships in the amount of US$25,000, $15,000 and $10,000. These winners will then have an opportunity to come to Microsoft and present their entry to the Microsoft games management team for possible inclusion as a download in the popular Xbox LIVE Arcade service or MSN Games Web site. The first place team, or individual, will also win the opportunity to become an apprentice at Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business. We’re announcing the winner next spring 2008 at the worldwide finals in Paris, France.

Press Pass: What do you think spawned this new direction in gaming?

Bell: Games are a part of mainstream culture now and there’s definitely something in the zeitgeist that has people, young people especially, thinking beyond their own comfort zones and wanting to be more involved. Maybe it’s all the raised consciousness about global climate change, or maybe it’s Bono’s work in Africa – it’s hard to avoid the fact that people are thinking outside themselves in new and dramatic ways, and that they want to make a difference in the world. With our XNA software, students can transform the concerns they’ve become so passionate about, like global warming, and create games that spread awareness on a grand scale in an interactive and entertaining fashion.

Seggerman: I agree. The current generation of gamers is potentially the most socially conscious in history. We know from experience that young people and teenagers are looking for ways to help make the world a better place, and we’re convinced interactive games can play a role in expanding their horizons, creating networks and helping design real-world solutions. I’d like to add that this partnership with Microsoft is crucial. Having an impact on the mainstream marketplace in fostering new kinds of video games is the best way to reach these kids.

PressPass: How will we know if this campaign is successful or not?

Bell: I feel it’s already a success because we’re breaking ground by venturing into this important new territory. One way to measure success is simple: How does this new breed of game do in the marketplace? We are committed to putting some fairly aggressive marketing muscle behind the category, and individual games themselves. But in the end, customers will vote with their pocketbooks, as they always do.

PressPass: Games for Change was recently was honored with a prestigious MacArthur Foundation grant. Can you tell us about G4C?

Seggerman: Yes, it’s true and I’m very proud to say we received a MacArthur Foundation grant for our work through our fiscal sponsor Digital Innovations Group, some of which was for our research on how games can be effective in addressing social issues.

G4C is the international nexus and new movement with members representing hundreds of organizations including partners in the game industry, academia, nonprofits, the arts, foundations, the U.N. and grass-roots activism. We bring people together in this community to share ideas and resources and to foster productive collaboration in creating these new kinds of video games: Real world games with real world impact.

Bell: Let me chime in here also and reiterate how rewarding it has been to work with this group of people. They are so committed, passionate and smart.


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