Three intense days of gaming impact are over at the NYU Skirball Center in NYC.

Games for Change Festival 2014 Stage
Main stage just before National STEM Awards given out.

Speaking from the point of view of a simple intern/volunteer, I would say the festival was a HUGE success. We were featured in the NYTimes, Joystiq, and NY1. There were tons of attendees and people enjoying the eight nominees for the Games for Change Awards. There were a lot of really great speakers too, half of whom were female. Some of the bigger speakers included Jane McGonigal, Tracey Fullerton, Erik Huey, and Jenova Chen (who recovered from a smoke alarm situation in the building during his talk, the last of the festival). All around there was a great cast of speakers, experts, and games –all having to do with social impact. Jane McGonigal kicked off the event with a talk about the future of Games for Change in the year 2024. She had some pretty awesome things to say, as usual, and posited that all the newest technologies like Oculus VR and other such game-enhancing hardware were just tools for gaming. The real power of games still lay in people. Josh Larson, representing That Dragon, Cancer relayed how their game was touching people everywhere affected by personal traumas like a terminal illness diagnosis. One highlight of his talk was a story about an elderly man who came in out of the heat one day to play their demo, was the opposite of tech-savvy, and still came away in tears because he was so touched by the game. Jenova Chen (mastermind at thatgamecompany)  was the final presenter of the festival. He too discussed the power of emotion and how he strives to make players feel something while playing. He described in great detail how most people want to kill each other online, whether with a gun or by pushing them into dangerous objects. He talked at length about the thought process behind the development of Journey and Flower, and how these were able to garner so much attention because of their emotional engagement. All around heads were nodding in agreement with what he had to say about his approach to game design.

Asi Burak, President of Games of Change giving an interview to Tribeca Film Festival Kids Access
Asi Burak, President of Games of Change giving an interview to Tribeca Film Festival Kids Access

On display during the festival were the eight games nominated for the Games for Change Awards: Papers, Please, Súbete Al SITP, TyrAnt, Mission US: A Cheyenne Odyssey, Start the Talk: Underage Drinking, Migrant Trail, Gone Home, and Sound Self. (You can find out more about each game on the Games for Change blog). Perhaps the most intriguing (and popular) games were Papers, Please, Gone Home, and Sound Self because of prior media attention, however all the other contenders were fun, and played a lot by attendees. TyrAnt and Mission US had people glued to the screen for hours. Start the Talk also had people very interested as a realistic tool for parents to engage their children in a healthy, proactive talk about underage drinking. In the end though, Papers, Please won in both the Most Innovative and Best Gameplay categories while Mission US: A Cheyenne Odyssey won Most Significant Impact. The Game of the Year Award went to Gone Home.

Attendee playing Sound Self
This guy really got into Sound Self and had a lot of fun.

Sound Self was a very interesting game, and popular with attendees because of it’s use on the Oculus Rift (you know, that company just bought by Facebook). Seeing as I was the impromptu expert on the Rift and Sound Self I have to talk about how cool it was and how fun the reactions of people were. The game is a blend of ancient trance meditation and video game interaction using your voice. So a player puts on the Oculus Rift and a headset and mic, and through the power of your humming the visuals and audio are manipulated. Eventually the visuals on screen can become dizzying and completely trippy. A lot of reactions I got as soon as people had the Oculus Rift headset on were “Holy Shit!” I was surprised by how shy people weren’t. I had all sorts of people humming and “ahhh”ing and falling into nirvana for well over ten minutes at a time. The game was a huge hit and people were very interested in it, and the hardware. I would definitely recommend checking out Sound Self on an Oculus Rift if you can get the chance.  The festivities continued on Saturday however on Jay Street which was completely taken over by Games for Change as part of the Tribeca Family Festival in conjunction with the Tribeca Film Festival.

Sesame Street Box Heads
Player successfully guiding Cookie Monster to a cookie in “Sesame Street Box Heads”.

Come Out & Play was at the end of Kay Street with games like Sesame Street Box Heads, where one player guides another with a box on their head via an iPad and headset (as seen to the left).  There was also a large Farmville 2 “barn”, complete with hay and animal face-painting.  A myriad of other fun games on ipads for children to interact with from Motion Math, Kidaptive, and The American Museum of National History. There was a huge turnout of Tribeca Film Festival goers who got a first hand experience with games for social change. All in all it was a very fun, and successful week. I can’t wait to see what Games for Change cooks up at next years festival!

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