How to use gamification for good: learning from great examples

Written by Meghan Ventura for the 2016 Games for Change Festival
Video games and data go far beyond just tallying the millions of players or billions of dollars they’ve generated. Nonprofits, the games industry, and even the U.S. government are creating games that amplify awareness of public issues from politics to health and then measuring their impact. Projects like these will be highlighted at the Games for Change Festival (April 21-23 & 25, 2016), New York City’s largest gaming event and the leading international event around the positive power of games.
This year’s lineup features social change superstars like Pulitzer-winner Nicholas Kristof, acclaimed filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, and game industry leaders from Rovio to Oculus VR. While all Festival talks touch on games, data, and impact in some way, here are some select data-driven sessions.

Who is measuring games with impact?

Game developers (both for-profit and nonprofit), academics, and governments around the world. The seven game developers recently announced in our Industry Circle — Kognito, Amplify, BrainPOP, GlassLab Games, Filament Games, Global Gaming Initative, and Schell Games — have a long track record of using data to assess their games for education, health, and charity, as well as their business. Next month, they will each share the secrets to their success, followed by a Q&A and open discussion of the existing and changing landscape.
What are the best ways for optimizing impact in games and beyond?
Can we reclaim evaluation to better empower artists, our audience and marginalized voices? What tricks of impact design can filmmakers borrow from games and vice versa? Seeking to democratize assessment and optimize it as a tool for quality rather than judgment, the Optimizing for Impact and Creativity session at the daylong Games & Media Summit will highlight several ambitious assessments and provide tips for teams and the field.

Which nonprofits are making impact with games today?

  • The Red Cross teamed up with Parsons The New School of Design’s PETLab to develop Games for a New Climate, a series of non-digital games about disaster preparedness in the face of flooding, drought, and other climate change issues in Africa and Asia. These games unite communities, bringing together Red Cross staff and volunteers, climate scientists, politicians, and members, to work through possible climate-related problems and solutions.
  • Next week, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute launches its Senate Immersion Module, a 100-player simulation of the U.S. Senate developed by Gigantic Mechanic and ESI Design. Players participate in simulated Senate debates and voting sessions to make sense of the legislative process. The institute’s interactive exhibits will also draw on real-world political data and encourage attendees to interact with it in ways meaningful to their lives.
  • PBS NOVA’s latest production, Evolution Lab, tackles the big ideas and misconceptions about evolution and attempts to counter the efforts being made in some states to remove the teaching of evolution in science classrooms. With its NOVA Labs series, PBS collaborates with scientists, game developers, and content producers to ensure real-world scientific data is represented accurately and conveyed through engaging content.
  • Funded by the nonprofit The PlayNice Institute, MindLight is a 3D game for Windows and Mac that uses the mind as the game controller through a neurofeedback headset. Developed based on research on the causal mechanisms and evidence-based clinical techniques, the game incorporates relaxation techniques and attention-bias modification methods to produce an immersive, haunted game world through which children learn to face and overcome their anxiety and fears.