The Weekly Geek: A report from The Games 4 Change festival

 
 

Greetings, Weekly Geeks! I’m writing to you from the Big Apple, where I’ve been attending the Games 4 Change conference. If you’re unaware, Games 4 Change is an organization that combines all sorts of wonderful, geeky pursuits – the central tenet being that video games can be used effectively for education and social change. The conference itself is like a Mecca for well-meaning nerds of all sorts – teachers who like tech, non-profit and government types who want to “do good” via gaming, and designers/developers who are more interested in letting players “save the world” in a more real life context.

So far, I’ve seen plenty of very cool women empowering projects that deserve special mention here.

Farm Blitz was one of the most polished, quirky and awesome games at the fest – it’s an addictive, farm-themed “match 3” puzzler (think Bejeweled), with the aim of teaching basic financial lessons to lower-income women. I was able to chat with the design team from MIT Education Arcade about their design decisions – including the fact that they chose the farming theme basically since it’s so ubiquitous on Facebook, and got a guided tour of the addictive gameplay (match 3 with added financial planning strategy mixed in!). You can play it here.

The most provocative was a work in progress called SOS_Slaves, which tackled the insanely sensitive issue of sexual slavery and human trafficking. Demoed in a Tuesday session for upcoming games, fiery activist Chelo Alvarez-Stehle presented her no-holds-barred vision, to great effect. This is something I cannot wait to play.

If you’re interested, definitely check out the link to the game’s official site.

Climbing Sacred Mountain was female empowering in perhaps a more traditional way – it’s aimed at middle-school girls and offers a narrative about leadership (players lead a team of female climbers on an expedition up Mt. Everest).

From the game’s description:

 

Climbing Sacred Mountain is a digital game based on the film Daughters of Everest. Our goal with the game is similar to the documentary: to tweak a familiar genre— the Everest expedition/ male-dominated adventure film — and offer an engaging narrative experience where players choose their protagonists from a team of talented women climbers.

 

That’s quite a refreshing change of pace from E3, where female protagonists are so few and far between and almost every game involves shooting or beating the living snot out of opponents. In fact, the entire Games 4 Change festival felt like the anti-E3 in many ways. These are all smaller projects, almost entirely non-violent, and yes, the production values tend to be much more modest. To be fair, in many cases, the gameplay mechanics tend to be much less sophisticated as well. It’s still a growing field, though, and one that holds an incredible potential for progress.

 
 

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