In early October 2011, the Game Developer Conference Online (GDC Online) debuted a game called Passing the Ball to tackle the topic of online safety for children. Recently we spoke to Gregory Weir, the lead game designer on the project to learn how his design aesthetics helped create the experience of the game.
But to learn more about why GDC Online chose to release a “game for change”, I spoke to their parent company’s Simon Carless, the Executive Vice President of UBM TechWeb Game Network via email. In our interview we spoke about the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR), games as art, and the public’s reaction to Passing the Ball.
GDC Online, which took place in Austin, Texas in 2011, is the largest gaming event that focuses on “persistent games” such as massively multiplayer online games (MMOs), Facebook games, and web-based games for computers and mobile devices. This annual event is an important venue to showcase the best and upcoming games in those genres, as well as the important issues related to the platform. As the online space becomes a larger player in the gaming industry, so too does the risk of online safety for children. To address the issue in an engaging and relevant way, UBM worked with their CSR department to come up with ideas to engage the community. Together with independent game designer Gregory Weir and the web safety non-profit Web Wise Kids, they created “Passing the Ball”. Update: Web Wise Kids has shut down do to limited funding.
The team at GDC Online felt a responsibility to give more weight to the argument that games are an art form. They understand that if games are to be taken as seriously as books or film, they needed to express the power they have in a positive light. Simon explains, “Everyone is aware of how documentaries can change opinions and groundswell on issues – I think many are starting to understand that the same is true for the interactive medium. That’s why we care about using games and highlighting games that do a good job of advocating for change.”
The team behind the game has taken strides to push the message to wider audiences. Recently, Passing the Ball was featured on NewGrounds.com, one of the Internet’s leading portals for Flash games and movies. Its appearance on the site has garnered a lot of attention and positive criticism from many of the website’s visitors who are more accustomed to entertaining, humorous, or violent content on the site. Web Wise Kids has also received praise from various veterans in the commercial gaming industry for their work on the project.
Simon Carless states that Passing the Ball has met their expectations for the project. They wanted to create a game that was engaging for all audiences, both young and old, but also for fans and creators of more commercial and independent games. And while there are no guarantees for additional projects, GDC Online is constantly looking into new ways to use online gaming as a platform to engage players while educating them on important issues with a medium they all care passionately for.