VR for Change

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Since 2004, Games for Change (G4C) has remained committed to empowering a community of people who create digital games that have an impact on the real world. During that time G4C kept a close eye on the progress of virtual reality, and earlier this year decided to step up our efforts and organize focused resources and a platform for developing the emerging VR/AR/MR for impact sector. This new initiative launched with the 2017 VR for Change Summit and for those who could not attend the event was a resounding success!

G4C is now proud to announce a continued commitment to this space with a year-round initiative of programming and support for the VR for Change community. In addition to a dedicated VR for Change blog, where we will feature innovative projects and best practices from leaders in the sector, we will host a quarterly VR Talk & Play series at the SAP Leonardo Center in New York where leaders in the field will give a demonstration to the community about their accomplishments and challenges moving forward. Another effort will be an Ambassador Group comprised of pioneers in the various sectors of the VR/MR/AR community who will help map the way forward and identify opportunities for practitioners to create resources for one another. And G4C is already gearing up for the 2018 VR for Change Summit, which will build on the success of the first VR for Change Summit and celebrate all of the new the accomplishments made over the last several months.

Developers, NGOs, federal organizations and educators are exploring these new tools and digging deeper into their potential for impact. Some people in the G4C community have been experimenting in this sector for years and for others it’s a brand-new frontier. There are researchers and scientists using these mediums for collecting data, mapping the brain, rehabilitation, and cognitive training; educators are developing VR/MR/AR experiences to foster learning, NGO’s and Government Agencies are using it to raise awareness around critical humanitarian issues. And of course for filmmakers and digital creators, the medium is ripe for self expression and storytelling. G4C is looking forward to connecting all of these people with one another to continue to push this medium forward.

Please share your projects with us at [email protected]

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G4C Attends VR/AR/MR for Impact


Earlier this month, Susanna Pollack, president of G4C, gave a talk at G4C Europe’s VR/AR/MR for Impact conference in Aix en Provence, France. The event was hosted at TheCamp, a unique community and campus that focuses on bringing together creators of technology and social innovation. It was an exciting 2 days and congrats to the G4C Europe team for an extraordinary event!

Susanna focused her talk on different types of impact that can be created from a VR/AR/MR experience – from building empathy to cognitive training and rehabilitation, from citizen science to creating social movements and behavior change.  Several especially notable speakers highlighted their groundbreaking work in these fields. Noah Falstein (The Inspiracy) gave an overview of the intersection between neuroscience and VR/AR/MR. Isabela Granic (Play Nice) used the experience DEEP-VR to explore how a VR experience can integrate ideas from behavioural science, biofeedback technology and emotionally evocative design to promote emotional health and well being. Daffy London (Avengers VR, I am Robot) discussed how his recent projects were able to use VR to better explore the themes of self, body image and how to feel comfortable in one’s skin.

Jamie Pallot (Emblematic Group) presented a keynote on immersive journalism using VR and AR, as an effort for viewers to feel empathy in the covered story. Jamie’s talk also reflected on practical and ethical challenges that arise while documenting journalistic work in new formats, such as data-capture, photogrammetry and volumetric video capture. Rachid El Guerrab and Kim Adams (Google Spotlight Stories) presented keynotes that mapped successful production strategies for interactive VR and mobile 360 storytelling. Followed by a workshop that explained to its attendees which kinds of social change projects best suit VR or other immersive formats.

These are just some of the remarkable innovators who are using VR/AR/MR as a tool to explore ideas in new ways. It has been inspiring to see all of these projects come to life and the G4C team is looking forward to seeing how these experiences continue to evolve as more people from across sectors find opportunities to collaborate and unlock the potential of these new mediums.  Learn more about the speakers who participated in VR/AR/MR for Impact here.

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GameTheory Wins VR Brain Jam and Shares Insights



The GameTheory team was lucky enough to spend the last weekend of July doing what we love most: solving problems with games in entirely new ways.

We were asked to join Games for Change’s first ever Neuroscience VR Game Jam, or #BrainJam. And yes, that’s a quite a bit to fit into one title, but the event was outstanding, delivering on all those seemingly disconnected pieces to create one truly inspiring experience.

To understand this event, and what made it such a great weekend for the team, let’s break that title down. First it was a Game Jam. For those who don’t know, a Game Jam is similar to a hackathon, only where a product is the main goal of a hackathon, learning is much more important in a Game Jam. You take 24-48 hours and have to make a game from scratch around a specific theme. A bunch of people participate and you all tackle this same challenge together. At the end of the given time you see what you all managed to make.

In this case, neuroscience was our topic for the jam. While we like to think over here at GameTheory that we’re pretty wily, we certainly aren’t neuroscientists, so we had some provided for us in mint condition. We had Leanne Chukoskie from University of California San Diego and Patrick Beukema from the University of Pittsburgh who were amazing additions to the team.




The final catch to this Game Jam is that we were working in VR. All the teams were equipped with Vive and Oculus stations to create our games on virtual reality platforms. The GameTheory team headed into Parson’s on Friday evening and got setup at our workspace at the New School. We were surrounded by inspiring VR development teams, neuroscientists, and researchers from all around the country. It’s always inspiring at Games for Change’s annual festival to see people from so many professions and walks of life coming together to use the power of games for positive change, and the Brain Jam was a fantastic example of that ethos.

Our team dove right in Friday night, working with our scientist partners to identify a variety of possible topics we could address with this platform. We thought about everything from PTSD treatment to motor skills training, but when we came back on Saturday morning to lock down our idea, we landed on top down processing as our inspiration.

We decided to make a game that was based around the idea of a Marco Polo type mechanic, looking for a hidden object using call and response cues. This is something our team scientists let us know is used a lot in research to see how people process information to find answers. The theme for our project bobbed right to the surface: a game where you play as a mother whale calling out for her lost baby and trying to find him.




And thus Marco was born! We spent the next two days rigorously creating in-game art, fish, seaweed, and ocean-scapes. We worked with our scientists to identify research scenarios and good ways to solidify the research testing environment the game would provide.

At the end of the weekend we, along with a dozen other teams who had come from around the world, presented our concept. We had made a game where you put on the headset and see out the eyes of this mother whale under the sea. You use your hand controls to paddle through the underwater scene, and use a button to call out to your baby. You baby answers but you have to listen carefully and move towards the sound. There are other distracting sounds like motorboats, dolphins, and seals, and lots of sights and creatures to avoid. This provides a much more interesting a realistic environment for researchers to use to assess top down processing. Researchers see how long it takes someone to find the baby and what tools they use to do that quickly and well.

We were thrilled that Marco was chosen along with two other games as the winner of the Brain Jam!




Something that struck us vividly at this event was how much benefit VR games can bring into neuroscience and research. Each team had identified a pile of tests that are currently done in research spaces that VR could prove to be a cheaper, better, more real-world tool for. By building games for these challenges we’re able to make research scenarios not only more interesting, but more affordable, and more relevant to science as they are able to recreate real-world environments far better than a simple set of lab equipment can.

The researchers we spoke to sounded so hungry for these type of innovations, and at GameTheory this is exactly the type of work we love to do: bringing academic experts and the insights of games together to create innovative solutions. It was thrilling for us to see such eagerness to adopt this new technology.

We’ve loved working with academics and researchers on our previous projects and creating with our scientist, gaming combo team at the Brain Jam just confirmed why we love what we do. We can’t wait for more opportunities to explore the future of research and virtual reality.

The GameTheory Team

To read the original article click here.

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G4C Launches CS4All Hack League in NYC Middle/High Schools


Games for Change (G4C) is excited to partner with CS4All and the NYC Department of Education to launch the CS4All Hack League. This year, over 60 public middle and high schools from across NYC are invited to participate in a bracket-style competition where students create games to tackle real-world issues aligned with the G4C Student Challenge.  Themes include News Literacy, Wildlife Conservation and Kindness & Empathy. Winning teams of the local and borough-level brackets will advance to a final, city-wide game making competition to win amazing prizes.  All participating students will also be eligible to submit their games to the G4C Student Challenge competition.

Training for teachers to run a hackathon in their schools will be offered in November, and the League will kick-off during CSEdWeek (December 4-10). Educators must have prior CS and/or game design experience to apply for professional development and must meet all eligibility, technology and time requirements outlined in the Teacher Application Form. Apply by November 2nd to join the League!


How to participate


Middle and High school teachers with experience teaching CS and/or game design are invited to apply for the program. To participate, please verify that you meet the below teacher eligibility requirements and then complete this application form by November 2nd.

Accepted teachers will function as ‘program leaders’ for their schools and will participate in the following activities:

  • Receive structured, in-depth professional development in how to facilitate a competitive hackathon-style event in their school (Trainings will be held Nov 18th)
  • Empower students to address real-world issues through collaborative, innovative thinking and game design
  • Implement a Hackathon for students during CSEdWeek (Dec 4-10) (Including recruiting students to participate, running the event and overseeing a live jury to evaluate final projects and select a school winner)
  • Provide guidance and mentorship to your school’s winning team into the next ‘brackets’ of the competition. Attend Borough-Level Hackathon as well as City Level Hackathon if team is chosen.


Teacher Eligibility


  • Must currently work as a Middle or High School teacher in the NYC DOE school system (grades 6-12)
  • School is located in the five NYC boroughs
  • Must meet the time and technology requirements outlined in the Teacher Application Form
  • Must satisfy ONE of the following requirements:
    • Have taught a CS program as part of the CS4All Curriculum or Independently
    • Have taught a Game Design course
    • Participated in the G4C Student Challenge Program


Program Timeline


Nov 2: Deadline to Apply for the CS4All Hack League

Nov 3: Notification Letters sent to applicants

Nov 11/ 18: Teacher Training sessions (only need to attend one day of training)

Dec 4-10: ROUND 1: School-Level Hackathon: 100 teachers/schools run Hackathons during CSEdWeek

Feb 2018: ROUND 2: Borough-Level Hackathon: Winning teams from each school compete against other winning teams w/in their borough

Mar 2018: ROUND 3: City-Level Hackathon: Winning teams from Borough brackets compete in a final, city-wide Hackathon


Questions? Please email [email protected]

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Taking Advantage of the Power of Play

(This is a cross-post from Edutopia.)

By Matthew Farber, Ed.D.

Game jams - game creation sessions - can be used in any class to spark learning. Bonus: There's a free lesson plan to help you get started.

Game jams – game creation sessions – can be used in any class to spark learning. Bonus: There’s a free lesson plan to help you get started.

Can designing games about real-world issues teach students empathy, systems thinking, and design thinking? After organizing a series of game jams last year around serious social issues—immigration, climate change, future cities—I discovered the answer to be an overwhelming yes.

What Are Game Jams?

In a game jam, people gather to design a game based on a theme or topic. Participants have a set amount of time (an hour, an afternoon, a weekend) to work on a project using an iterative design process. Youths work in teams to solve a problem collaboratively.

Game design engages young people to be creative and innovative problem solvers. Many areas of expertise and interests are engaged; thus, students can identify their own strengths and bring them to a team. To create a digital game as a functioning and interactive system, groups need artists, coders, systems designers, and storytellers. Here, all modes of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) coalesce. And designing games also happens to be fun.

Game Jams as PBL

Game jams often take place in informal learning settings like museums and libraries, or on college campuses. Hosting an event requires an open space or room with lots of electrical outlets and Wi-Fi. Plenty of pizza helps. But game jams can be part of a project-based classroom, too.

In a classroom, first use a video game or a tabletop game the same way you would use a book or film: Have students spend one or more class periods getting to know it. In the case of a game, that’s done by playing it. In my teaching, I had students play the history-themed Mission US series from PBS. Then I challenged them to design their own sequels using free digital authoring tools like Scratch. In this sense, the game substituted for traditional media, like a text or film. An analogous assignment would be to have students read a story and then write a sequel.

There are many tools to enable game creation on a variety of content themes. Bloxels is a set of colored cubes that fit in a square board. After placing the cubes on the board, open the free tablet app and take a picture. The app then turns the image into a fully playable game level. Students can design a tour of a cell or a location in a book in minutes. For more, check out the tool’s education portal. Other easy-to-use game design tools include Gamestar Mechanic, which also can be used to tell stories. In fact, several of the winners of the National STEM Video Game Challenge built games with it.

Game jams can work at most grade levels, and in just about any content area—the games students make are a tool to demonstrate their learning. Although younger students may require more teacher facilitation, think about how many kindergartners are already adept at designing Minecraft worlds for others to play.

Moveable Game Jams

Last year I was part of a team that organized Moveable Game Jams, which took place on Saturdays at four different locations. Each event began with a warm-up activity—often the whole group played a game. The goal was to get kids to be in a lusory—playful—attitude because play brings learners to the zone of proximal development, where novices become masters. In a classroom, have students play the reverse charades party game HedBanz for a few minutes. Then distribute blank index cards and challenge students to redesign the game based on the content you are covering. This will get kids already in the mindset to play with new, and possibly complex, topics.

The second half of the Moveable Game Jams featured experts related to each content theme: employees of Current by GE for the future communities jam, NOAA and NASA staff for the climate change jam, and two New York City historical museum educators for the local stories and immigrant voices event. You can bring experts into your classroom by hosting a Mystery Skype—students guess who the guest is—or by simply inviting in a guest speaker.

The final part of the Moveable Game Jams was content creation. Participants chose one of four game design stations to visit and were mentored by an adult trainer. I adapted this portion to my classroom by setting up learning zones. One was a board game design station, while the other involved coding.

Free Game Jam Guide

The goal of the Moveable Game Jams was to create and publish a document that would enable any teacher in any subject area to replicate a weekend jam within the constraints of a bell schedule in their classrooms. We collected and edited all of the activities and rewrote them in a lesson plan format. Each game design lesson can fit most course topics. Or you can simply follow one that’s already themed, like the science (climate change) or social studies (immigration, future communities) examples.

We produced a free Game Jam Guide that features over 20 lessons and activities—created with digital learning organizations in the Hive NYC network—that can be used to help students learn about real-world issues.

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Announcing One Gamer Fund: Support 7 gaming-related charities this weekend


Donate once, support 7 game-related charities from now through September 24


We are proud to be a part of One Gamer Fund, an initiative to benefit seven game-related charities that support gamers or game developers: Able Gamers, Child’s Play, Global Game Jam, the IGDA Foundation, Stack-Up, Take This, and Games for Change.

Inspired by United Way, One Gamer Fund will raise funds and evenly distribute the proceeds amongst the supported charities, keeping less than half a percent of the money raised to cover its own operational costs.

Here’s how you can support One Gamer Fund this weekend before these opportunities end on September 24.

Meet the One Gamer Fund charities

AbleGamers works to improve accessibility in video games so that everyone can have a great gaming experience. 

Child’s Play improves the lives of children in hospitals and domestic violence shelters through the power of play.

Games for Change empowers game creators and social innovators to drive real-world change through games.

The Global Game Jam is a worldwide initiative, culminating in an event held every January, to introduce the joy of making games to individuals and communities around the world.

The IGDA Foundation works to support diversity and inclusivity in game development through its scholarships and other programs, increasing the funnel of diverse talent entering game development, helping companies create a more inclusive environment, and retaining diverse talent already in the industry.

Stack-Up supports military service members and veterans through their love of video games, bringing veterans to gaming events and providing video games to military servicemen around the world.

Take This works to educate, inform, and advocate for game developers and gamers about mental health issues.



Donate to One Gamer Fund


More info on One Gamer Fund
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GBL Continues to Take Hold, But Will Any of Us Be Here to See It Succeed?

(This is a cross-post from


Nearly 1,000 developers, educators, researchers and influencers – a record number — attended this year’s Games for Change Festival in New York City. One of three tracks of programming, the Games for Learning Summit, featured more than 50 speakers representing all aspects of the industry, from a team of high school students and soon-to-be tech entrepreneurs to veteran developers of the most popular video games. Michelle Miller, president of the organization that runs this website, and Mark DeLoura, games and education consultant and member of the Games and Learning board, were this year’s program curators for the Games and Learning Summit.

The two organizers weighed in on the mixed messages they heard from this year’s event in this back-and-forth.

Michelle: A shared sense of purpose and appreciation for game-based learning (GBL) innovation is always the most energizing part of the festival for me. But going in, this year felt more like a group therapy session than in years past. There is still that sense of potential, which many of our keynotes and sessions highlighted, but the hallway conversations often ended in, “Who will still be left standing by next year?”. On a micro level, festival attendees continue to generate and implement great work, but they are also feeling the strain of a macro-level lack of funding, distribution and institutional support.

Mark: Going into the conference, I held a slight feeling of dread about what is occurring in the learning games space. I’m always excited to be at the conference, but in the past few years it seems like it has become more challenging to find funding for innovation and experimentation around the use of games in the classroom. As an industry, we haven’t found a reliable path to sustainable revenues, so changes in the availability of funding can have a dramatic impact.

The sustainability question

Michelle: Sustainability is a slightly different question, but one of our keynotes predicted better news on the horizon for at least investment-type funding. Jason Horne, principal at GSV Acceleration, argued that a “confluence of catalysts” have led to an acceleration of capital in the education space, with over $5 billion invested in the U.S. in the last 3 years.

These include the rise of mobile, cloud computing, big data, digital natives, device proliferation, successful exits and the disintermediation of the traditional sales model. He sees game-based learning as “pockets of investment and innovation” with a few successful exits, but in a market that is not yet fully mature. Not surprising to all of us assembled in the audience, Horne noted sales and distribution as the number one challenge. But he also cited the perception of a hits-driven market and the absence of top game companies and AAA game investors from game-based learning as barriers. And yet, based on revenue estimates, audience growth and engagement potential, he is optimistic about GBL investment.

Mark: When I talk about the importance of profitability for a learning game company, people sometimes give me a quizzical look, as if profits are a result of a company ripping off its consumers. But I want developers to be able to create more than one learning game, the one that puts them out of business! In the entertainment space we used to say that for every ten games you built, one would be a success, and it would pay for the nine failures. We’re all still learning how to make effective learning games, so we need as many tries at it as we can get!

There are two models we’re seeing for companies building learning games: a) using government and philanthropic grants to build games, perhaps as part of a research project, and giving the games away for free; or b) building learning games that also stand independently as entertainment games, so they can be sold in traditional commercial channels. A few companies use both these strategies. AAA game companies have by and large not jumped into the space yet, though EA worked with GlassLab on SimCity EDU, and Take-Two is working on Civilization EDU.

Michelle: Building on Jason Horne’s point, it does come back to sales and distribution. Filament Games, Speakboos and Lightneer all articulated deliberate strategies for how they maximize sales in schools, at home or both. And our panel on the challenges of distribution started to define the recent failures to provide centralized marketing and reporting for GBL products: from Amplify to GlassLab to Google Play for Education. But both panels only scratched the surface of what needs to be examined. We even had festival-goers willing to forego lunch to keep talking because these issues prevent them all from doing their work.

Mark: Most of our conversations with developers centered around distribution or analytics.

“We are an industry without a clear distribution path to interested educators. If every developer has to stand up their own servers and do their own sales outreach, it will dramatically limit the number of developers who even attempt to tackle the education market. With analytics it’s a similar situation, with no clear choice, but more broadly: to what extent do we even need to use analytics in our games? Using telemetry as a development tool is plainly valuable, to improve the way our game adapts to the player, but will educators use real-time learning feedback that is exposed to them? If each developer needs to set up their own teacher dashboard system, again, that’s a heavy lift to add to the development burden.”


The positive signs

Michelle: I was pleasantly surprised to see standing room only for the three series of mini-talks: developers for informal learning spaces, GBL researchers and teachers using digital games in the classroom. And there was a very valuable discussion around how to build a bigger tent and make digital games more inclusive for all kids, with guidelines from KIDMAP. There continues to be a genuine desire for these experts to come together and improve outcomes for particularly the most vulnerable students in preK – Grade 12. The challenge, of course, is making sure that both developers and educators have what they need to connect kids with the best possible content and tools.

Mark: The conference is always an interesting opportunity to take the temperature of educators as well as developers. I met many educators at the conference who are using games, or interested in using games more. The number who can travel to NYC and attend the conference is so small though compared with the vast number of teachers in our country. So this begs the question: why these teachers? What have they learned, why are they interested, and what support structures do they have in their schools that enable them to integrate games?

The work of GlassLab and SRI several years ago showed us that there is power to adding games to a traditional curriculum – increasing cognitive learning outcomes substantially. If it is true that using games aids learning, isn’t it incumbent on us as a society to find a way to get more of them integrated into education? As a game developer, I feel a duty to upcoming generations of students to use my skills to make their path simpler than mine was. As each generation grows up, it is asked to learn more material than the one before it, so we necessarily must evolve our bag of teaching tricks over time to become more effective.

Is VR in the classroom another false reality?

Michelle: There’s no question that effective game-based learning can improve outcomes, and that even the most successful developers face a difficult road. Still, it feels like the solutions are within our grasp and we have over a decade of experience and research to leverage. Honestly, it was tough for me to dive into similar questions around AR/VR. There’s potential there, too, but that road seems even more fraught with challenges especially in terms of reaching underserved kids. Inspiring, yes. But is AR/VR for learning remotely sustainable?

Mark: Virtual reality and augmented reality were definitely hot topics, and we saw some impressive uses in sessions and in the Marketplace. But you’re right. This technology is also facing a headwind when confronted with the realities of the U.S. education system. We need to find ways to reduce costs to improve accessibility and equity, we need to integrate VR and AR experiences into curriculum, and we need to overall make the technology simpler for every teacher to adopt.

I always find the conference valuable for its content and for networking, but also for more than that: getting a broader view helps me to see gaps in the market and challenges we need to solve. For both learning games and VR/AR, this year, those challenges seemed clearer than ever.

Constance Steinkhuehler outlines the tech cycle learning games may be finding itself in.

Constance Steinkhuehler outlines the tech cycle learning games may be finding itself in.

Michelle: There was one slide from the festival that has stayed with me, and that was from keynoter Constance Steinkuehler, professor at University of California, Irvine. She used the Gartner Hype Cycle to describe the state of the GBL industry. Measuring expectations over time, she believes that we have plummeted from our peak of “inflated expectations” 10 or so years ago, and are making our way up the “slope of enlightenment” from the “trough of disillusionment.” She went on to cite 10 key research studies that give us a glimpse into what Gartner describes as the “plateau of productivity.” That one image for me was the right balance of realism and optimism. If GBL Is to mature into a legitimate industry, we will need support from those in short supply at this year’s Festival—investors, funders and institutional buyers—to provide the nudge that improves distribution and the outcomes that come with it.

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UNLEASH Innovation Lab: Unleashing the potential of games on UN Sustainable Development Goals

By Sara Cornish


Last month, I proudly represented Games for Change at UNLEASH Innovation Lab, the first-ever convening of 1,000 public and private sector leaders from 129 countries to tackle the Sustainable Development Goals. We spent nine days going through a facilitated process of problem framing, exploring development challenges from different angles, international perspectives and support from UN facilitators and business consultants. The program culminated with nearly 200 potential solutions being pitched to investors — many of which, I was excited to see, involved games, gamification, or game-based learning.

I was part of the Education/Information & Communication Technology (ICT) group, one of seven SDG topics including Water, Sustainable Consumption and Production, Energy and Health, with 200 other entrepreneurs, educators, technologists, development practitioners, and researchers. We were tasked with addressing the challenge of ensuring an inclusive, equitable and quality education, and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all, or SDG 4. Over a week spent living at a Danish Folk High School, one of 64 unique educational institutions located in Denmark’s beautiful countryside, we collaborated in small teams and sprinted through an innovation process developed by Dalberg and Deloitte.


My team of five tackled the thorny issue of teachers’ mental wellbeing in post-conflict states, after researching teacher professional development, retention, and support in these fragile communities with team members. Due to stigma and lack of awareness, as well as scarce development aid for teachers (the focus of funding tends to be on children), teachers often lack the knowledge and support structure to understand and care for their mental health and wellbeing. After desk research and Skype interviews with teachers in Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Cambodia, we presented the concept of an SMS-based chatbot to provide daily coaching to teachers through anonymous, relatable conversation, and resource sharing. Other pitched solutions included a Hindi literacy game, teacher attendance rewards program that was gamified to encourage participation, and a role-playing game to teach and empower students in developed nations to address the SDGs in their daily lives.

The final three days of the program were spent in Aarhus, a Danish port city honored as the 2017 European Capital of Culture. We presented our solutions for peer review and top projects were pitched to a group of investors in a “shark tank” style event. Although our proposed solution didn’t advance to the final round, we remain inspired by this challenge after our concept was validated by a number of colleagues from post-conflict states in the UNLEASH cohort. A handful of pitched ideas will receive investor funding; and for the rest of us, a global fund is being set up to support further iterations and SDG solutions. It is an incredibly ambitious program, applying a venture capital model to developing business that can deliver on the SDGs — with the great majority of its impact “yet to come.”

With support from a group of visionary business leaders and companies including Deloitte, Microsoft, and Dalberg, UNLEASH plans to host an innovation lab in cities around the world until 2030, leveraging a network that grows by 1,000 every year, providing an innovation methodology and support system for remote collaboration.

Achieving the SDGs will take investment of an estimated $5 trillion to $7 trillion per year until 2030, meaning we need solutions that are not only socially acceptable but also commercially viable. Solutions that challenge the status quo of energy, production, consumption, education, food and water, governance and business. Games present an opportunity to reach massive audiences, especially youth, to help advance sustainable development. For example, simulations like World Climate, a role-playing UN negotiation game, and Games for Change Climate Challenge winner Eco, a global survival game where the players collaborate to build a civilization and balance its ecosystem support learning and build empathy. Last month, UNESCO MGIEP released World Rescue, a mobile game based on the SDGs, as the winner of its 2017 Impact Gaming Challenge.


Games can also raise awareness and public engagement about issues such as gender equality and women’s empowerment (Half the Sky: The Game), climate change (Habitat the Game), peace and conflict (Liyla and the Shadows of War), the ecological impacts of city-building (Block’hood), and urban planning and development (Block by Block’s use of Minecraft). In March 2017, a beta test of Hive Mind 2030 was run at the Global Festival of Ideas with nearly 500 players. Here’s a recap of the gameplay by the developers Free Ice Cream.

There was substantial interest in games for SDG impact at UNLEASH, but it seemed like participants had little knowledge, understanding or access to resources to explore game development as part of a project strategy. I had conversations about the potential of games in post-conflict states and government policy negotiations, and games to support training in vocational schools and at village council meetings, with creative and entrepreneurial leaders from around the world and was inspired by their passion and unwavering belief that games can and do drive social change.

With this in mind, I am pleased to share a shortlist of resources from Games for Change and partners that can hopefully point the UNLEASH community in the right direction, whether you are interested in applying a game-based learning approach to your curriculum, gamifying a healthy food program, using Minecraft for urban planning, or some other brilliant SDG solution:

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Changing VR at VR for Change

By Mitch Gelman

(This article is a cross-post from the Journalism 360 blog.)

The topics are big ones: How can VR storytelling engender change? What is the nexus of games and journalism? Where do new media require new ethics?

At the VR for Change Summit in New York City this month, the cafeteria at Parsons School of Design transformed into a salon with tables populated by students, technologists, journalists, game developers and entrepreneurs. They came to Greenwich Village from around the world to discuss these questions at an event funded by the Knight Foundation and organized by VR for Change Curator Erik Martin, as part of the 2017 Games for Change Festival.

The first table — facilitated by Amy and Ryan Green, whose work in virtual reality has helped children with cancer and their families cope with the illness — wrestled with the best way to use emerging media to impact how people think about issues and ideas. In large part, this group agreed that VR’s flexibility can lower the emotional barrier of entry to news stories that are traditionally difficult for people to focus on because of their subject matter.

VR for Change participants gather in the Parsons cafeteria

VR for Change participants gather in the Parsons cafeteria

One participant in that discussion had never been able to watch stories about animal poaching on television or in film because the images were so disturbing. However, during a VR experience about poaching, the viewer could look away at certain points while staying engaged in the overall story. Further, the group noted, VR allows players to explore the environments and discover the news in a potentially unsettling story at their own pace and with a comforting sense of control.

“We heard people say that they stopped watching the news because they hated seeing all the bad news,” Amy Green said. “In VR, an experience can be specifically designed to allow a player to look away from intense or hard moments without removing themselves from the story being told.”

That said, the participants at this table also talked about some of the design limitations of the new technologies. In particular, they identified the challenge of trying to design experiences that can be enjoyed easily by people new to virtual reality as well as by more seasoned players. In order to get through this, the group recommended faster and more concentrated efforts to establish industry-wide standards of play.

Summit Curator Erik Martin opens the event in New York City

Summit Curator Erik Martin opens the event in New York City

While all agreed about the innate power of VR to capture someone’s emotional attention, one challenge still remaining for many content creators looking to have an impact is identifying the right point — and right ways — to deliver a call to action, the group acknowledged.

At table two, Heather Chaplin, founding director of the Journalism + Design program at The New School, along with The New York Times’ Samantha Quick, led the group in conversation around the ethical questions that the new media have raised — from defining journalistically acceptable ways to present an experience to addressing some of the social concerns related to more shared VR experiences. Chaplin said that she was “struck by how little exists in terms of ethical or research guidelines” applied to the emerging practices.

The group was particularly interested in some of the basic questions that journalists struggle to apply to existing media, including how to present interviews with people describing traumatic experiences. One twist on traditional ethical questions includes looking at how to relate to people who may feel like an outsider when immersed in an interactive community. Another is whether allowing people to be flies on the wall could, at least in the early days of VR when there is an economic gap between those who can and cannot afford the technology, create a voyeuristic mindset in which more privileged viewers are watching less privileged subjects.

“We spent a lot of time discussing whether the issues around VR were actually new, or just the same kind of issues that always arise with a new medium,” said Chaplin. She noted that in the early days of film, when audiences saw a train coming at them on screen during The Great Train Robbery, “people ran away, never having seen a moving image before.”

Lindsay Grace, director of the Game Lab and Studio at American University, led the third table in conversation around the lessons that spherical experience creators can learn from game development.

Certain fundamentals were raised, including the importance of fast load times, establishing quick and intuitive mechanics and mastering the best ways to present overlays to provide context around stories. On a more sophisticated level, the group recognized the potential for using visuals as a common language to reach people at different levels of overall literacy. Its members also discussed the value of journalists becoming more familiar with techniques that game developers have learned about steering audiences.

Dynamic dialogue at the VR for Change Summit, August 2, 2017

Dynamic dialogue at the VR for Change Summit, August 2, 2017

This group recognized the nascent stage of journalists working with interactive and immersive storytelling. “A primary challenge is the need to train VR journalists. This is more than helping them understand the technology, and is also about incorporating the characteristics of the medium,” Grace said. “There are few people teaching how to handle a medium where control is ceded to the consumer.”

Grace noted that this is an area in which game designers have greater experience and can work with journalists to better grasp how the relationships between authors, viewers, readers and players change in VR.

In general, he said, the limits of 360 video being produced by news organizations today are “analogous to posting a PDF online and calling it a website.”

While the teams may not have come up with conclusive answers to the questions debated during these sessions at VR for Change, the spirit of the discussions was progressive and collaborative. Many of the facilitators, as well as the participants, walked away with fresh perspectives on the opportunities to work together to bring the points of view, perspectives and skill sets necessary to meet the challenges ahead.



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See photos from the 2017 G4C Festival and VR for Change Summit

2017 G4C Festival

The biggest and best Festival yet!

Thanks to all who joined us for the largest and most energizing Games for Change Festival yet! We were thrilled to host a record-setting 1,000 attendees at Parsons School of Design at The New School. This was also the most diverse Festival yet — there was a near even 50-50 split between female and male speakers and attendees.

We’d like to give a special thanks to our curators — Amy Sterling (Neurogaming & Health track), Michelle Miller and Mark DeLoura (Games for Learning Summit), Naomi Clark and Lindsay Grace (Civics & Social Issues track), and Erik Martin (VR for Change Summit) — for bringing together an engaging, thought-provoking program.

Check out the Festival and VR for Change Summit photos on our Flickr, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for when we begin adding videos from over 100 sessions in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, be sure to check out what we have planned for VR for Change, the winners of the G4C Awards, and our free Game Jam Guide.


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See photos on Flickr here
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