(Photo courtesy of the Annenberg Foundation)
Windward School

Games For Change at the LA Student Challenge

Video games are one of the most popular forms of entertainment today. Fueled by over $100 billion dollars of worldwide revenue in 2017, the video game industry far exceeds the global industries of film and recorded music. But what kind of impact is all this gaming having on the current generation of young gamers? An organization called Games for Change (G4C) is seeking to promote the idea that video games can embody a message of positive social change. Founded in 2004, Games for Change “empowers game creators and social innovators to drive real-world change using games and technology that help people to learn, improve their communities, and contribute to make the world a better place.”

I had the pleasure of attending the recent G4C Student Challenge awards ceremony in Los Angeles. Middle and high school students showed off their exciting games, which tackled this year’s themes: News Literacy (supported by Common Sense Media), Kindness & Empathy (supported by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation + iThrive Games) and Wildlife Conservation (supported by The National Wildlife Federation). According to the G4C website, “the program included professional development for teachers, game making courses in public schools and after-school programs, student workshops and game jams, and mentorship by professional game designers.” Prizes were awarded in each category, and one team took home the Grand Prize — a $1000 scholarship, generously provided by Take-Two Interactive.

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(Photo courtesy of Rylan J. Daniels)

Every student participant attempted to create a transformative game. One of my favorite experiences was “The Stress Quiz” by Kiev G, which teaches you about dealing with stress. I particularly liked this game because it faced a relatable issue that everyone experiences, especially adolescents. Like most of the demoes featured at the G4C challenge, “The Stress Quiz” was created with Scratch, a popular block-based programming tool created by MIT. Scratch is an ideal tool for kids getting started in creating their own games because there is no coding experience required. All you need is your creativity and imagination. Some games, like “Save the Cougars of LA” by Brayan G, used Unity, a more advanced game creator, to be able to construct more immersive 3D worlds.

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(Photo courtesy of the Annenberg Foundation)

The awards ceremony was emceed by Anjali Bhimani, the voice of Symmetra in “Overwatch” and Nisha in “Fallout 4: Nuka World.” The winners of the News Literacy category were “News to You” by Stephanie R and Louis P, and “Gossip!” by Celeste V.

The winners of the Kindness and Empathy category were “The Stress Quiz” by Kiev G and Christopher B, and “Me, My Friends, and I” by Deven L. The winners of the Wildlife Conservation category were “Cougar” by Naomi M, and “Mountain Lion Maze” by Isaac T and Jomo H, who were also this year’s Grand Prize winners.

I also had the wonderful opportunity to interview Games 4 Change President and Founder Susanna Pollack.

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(Photo courtesy of Rylan J. Daniels)

HS Insider: “What is your vision for this event and G4C?”

Susanna Pollack: “The G4C Student Challenge provides middle and high school students the opportunity to learn how to make games, but also to think about the potential games have to create a positive impact on the world. The kids have been making games about social issues as part of a competition that ran for the whole school year. Today is an opportunity to recognize those games and the students that made them that are the best of each of the categories.”

HS Insider: “What was your inspiration for starting this event?”

Pollack: “I run an organization called Games for Change. Our mission is based on the belief that games are a powerful tool beyond entertainment and can actually change the world. Part of our mission is to empower young creators and game designers. We want to inspire youth to not only look at games as something fun to do, but as something for which they can actually be a creator. They get to make this amazing piece of entertainment, and also think about the responsibility they have in this world. Could they make something that actually teaches people something? Could they make a game that’s not only fun to play, but teaches people about the environment, or maybe makes them think about a situation where they’ll act more kind, or think about the issues that animals might have. Not only can a game be fun, but a game can also have a positive impact.”

HS Insider: “What would you say is the most rewarding part of this for you?”

Pollack: “For me, it’s seeing young people being inspired, and seeing the energy from a person whose spent the hours it takes to make a game. It’s not easy to make a game. It’s very complicated and requires a lot of different skill sets you have to develop. What’s so exciting is to see the products they’ve made, and the confidence that the kids have, saying they know they can make something that is being recognized for being of excellence.

The G4C Student challenge is an inspiring event. It is definitely getting students to create their own games in ways that aspire to change the world. It demonstrates not only the power of this new form of interactive media, but that it can be used as a force for creating a better future. 

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(Photo courtesy of Rylan J. Daniels)
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