Thursday, June 27, 2013

Games for Change: One Week Later

I had the privilege of attending the Games for Change Festival last week and working for the Festival's social media team. I attended and live tweeted many of the talks and panels, and was struck with two common threads found across the most of the discourse: games as art, and games as business.

Games as Art
This idea was probably most clearly articulated in one of the last keynotes delivered by Eric Zimmerman. In this talk, he spoke on flaws in "serious games" of design literalism. He argues that games do not need to literally depict subject matter to do justice to the subject, and that we need to trust the art of the game to produce positive results. He goes so far as to encourage thinking about games as "aesthetic objects," which would lead to a higher quality of game, and a higher quality of impact. This approach goes against the trend of trying too hard to make a "game for change." We don't make "books for change," we make "books." The good ones change the world. Games as art work the same way, though they offer unique and exciting opportunities for engagement, teaching and connecting people.

Games as Business
Several developers at the conference, perhaps the majority, are commercial game developers. To make games for change sustainable and scalable, questions more appropriate for the board room than the sandbox were evident across the festival. One of the most interesting examples of the business interest in the games for change arena was the widespread visibility of Amplify, News Corps' new education business. Amplify has 30 education games in the pipeline, had their VP of Games, Justin Leites, on one of the keynote panels, and had a prominent booth for the whole three days. Of course, "educational games" only represent one segment of the "games for change" space, but Amplify has plans to dominate this segment. Debates over whether educational games should be required by teachers or not, purchased by districts or parents, or include quizzes or "stealth assessment" dominated the debates and thinking of the Festival participants. One of the questions that remains unanswered is whether the education games marketplace can support truly good games, or if the procurement process ends up corrupting the whole idea. After all, principals and parents buy games because the games "teach"; they don't buy games for what games do best: create FUN.

What do you think? Are games art? Can games be games if they're not fun? Is there an enormous business opportunity in educational games? If so, can artistic, fun games seize this opportunity? 

1 comment:

  1. Games can definitely be art, but in the same way that not every drawing is art, not every game is art. And the idea of art is such a subjective experience for each person that it becomes complicated to define what games are art and what games are not. Someone's child may create a finger turkey drawing and that person may consider it art, but their coworker may consider it not exactly art.

    Also, games... are often not fun these days. Although, I think the intention is that the game is fun, but sometimes I feel like games are captivating rather than precisely "fun". Since last week, I've been thinking a lot about the possible role of games in education and I think there is definitely opportunity, but games should not be considered the be all, end all of games. I think I prefer the idea of games being an additional resource, along with books, music, movies, and traditional art forms. It can be more of a support or a side-quest than the main quest itself. Unless we turned education entirely into a giant RPG with the main quest being to level up the skills necessary to survive in the adult world. That's always a possibility, but I wonder if it's possible in today's test-happy, square peg happy system. Also, not everyone likes RPG's finicky style.