Games for Change is transforming the way video games are perceived by the public. The non-profit curator’s mission, according to co-president Asi Burak (above, right), is to advance the idea that video games can make a social impact. “We have this amazing medium that is becoming arguably the most dominant media of the 21st century, and it’s being played by young people and adults around the world. Why not take that energy and use it for awareness of issues and behavior changes? We want to drive people to take action.”
The company was formed in 2004 by activists hoping to show the public some of the remarkable, forward-thinking games being released by displaying them on their website. To be clear, the highlighted games aren’t created by Games for Change; instead, they shine a light on games from around the world. Burak and his partner as co-president, Michelle Byrd (above, second from right), joined the company a year ago. When he joined, Burak believed that Games for Change was going in the right direction. “We came with the idea that the organization is at the right moment to transition to the next phase. I was part of the community; I was a developer. I was in the community, speaking at Games for Change events, and I was always fascinated by where it could go.”
Games for Change’s flagship program each year is its festival, taking place at the Skirball Center at New York University in June. What at one point was a conference has turned into a full-fledged festival, bringing people together from different areas of expertise, like gaming professionals, video game designers, and government officials to discuss how they can continue to make unique video games that can change the world. Al Gore was the keynote speaker this past June, and past keynote speakers have included luminaries such as Sandra Day O’Conner and United States Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra. The idea, according to Burak, was to bring people outside of the gaming community in to acknowledge the potential of using this medium for good. Along with having those speakers, the festival is interactive, allowing members of the public to go to play some of the exciting games that were made in the past year. The three-day event has been referred to as “The Sundance of Video Games”.
Burak believes that there is plenty of room for growth for Games for Change. He thinks that support from creators and a wider distribution will be key for their cause to get more recognition. “Unlike with independent films or documentaries, the video game world is mostly dominated by organizations releasing games, as opposed to individuals with strong visions. We want to see more support for creators, and more incubation of projects, so that we can support young designers coming out of universities to make their dream game that could make an impact.”
Finding outlets for users to play these games is the other big issue that Games for Change is trying to address. “There are lots of great games being created, but there’s not a wide enough audience for games that aren’t being marketed heavily by the few established publishers. We showcase games on our website, but we’re one of the only places that does that.” Burak said. We’re hoping to find cultural spaces for games that are created in our community, like museums and libraries. We know that this is a young genre, and we’re looking for a sustainable model for showcasing the material.”