Games for Change Festival – Day 1 Recap

Games for Change Festival – Day 1 Recap


My excitement about attending this year’s Games 4 Change Festival was definitely well founded.  Throughout the entire day there was a palpable excitement in the air, every conversation I had was about the limitless potential of games and how we’re witnessing a unique moment in human history. It was electric.

On Monday, the day opened with Constance Steinkuehler Squire, a senior policy analyst in The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, going over what it is that she does. She then went on to explain to us that The White House takes gaming very seriously and that her job has her working with all different aspects of government; and that in each instance they are all interested in using games to implement positive social change.

Ms. Squire then introduced Jesse Schell and, as always, he gave a very entertaining talk.  If you are unfamiliar with Mr. Schell’s work I recommend that you watch his talk on his visions of the Gamepocalypse. He is a highly engaging speaker who masterfully knows how to frame an argument.

He referred to the talk he gave today as his 7/11 talk. It was a list of the 7 things games are bad at doing, followed by the 11 things they’re good at. They are as follows:

7 Things Games are Bad at Doing

  • Being Cheap
  • Tracking students into learning
  • Limitless exploration
  • Adhering to time limits
  • Understanding why a mistake was made
  • having long shelf lives
  • Staying interesting forever

11 Things Games are Good at Doing

  • Giving the brain what it wants
  • Illustrating Complex Systems
  • Keeping players in “Flow”
  • Showing you a new POV
  • Being Authentic
  • Raising Questions
  • Creating Shared Experiences
  • Allowing Independent Exploration
  • Practicing Dangerous Situations
  • Creating Teachable Moments
  • and Giving students ownership

If I had to sum up the message of Mr. Schell’s speech it would be to make sure that you use games for what they’re good at, and not to think of them as a magic bullet to solve any problem. Like most of his work, it served as a sobering call to arms, It kept our unbridled enthusiasm in check while simultaneously helping us focus on how we can build games that truly matter and can transform a person.

After being sufficiently tempered with a dose of optimistic realism, the next talk we heard was from Erik Huey, Senior VP of The Electronic Software Association. It was a very forward looking speech assuring us that the video game industry was in a state of growth and that its future was in the interconnectedness of players and also the idea of being able to play the same game on any device you held.

From my perspective, the most interesting things he had to say was in regards to the National STEM Video Game Challenge.  In a theme that would be repeated by many speakers throughout the day, Mr. Huey stressed the fact that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education is way of thinking and that video game design helps students ready the skills they’ll need for the 21st century.

Scott Rigby was the next speaker. Mr. Rigby is a research psychologist whose came to explain the neuroscience behind why games engage us. He presented his PENS (Player Experience of Needs Satisfaction) model of player engagement. In short, he says that games help support a person’s need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness; and that it’s the fulfillment of these needs that underlies our sense of what makes something fun. I recommend you check out the research for yourself at

Finally, at the end of the day, I took part in the ACTIVATE! workshop by Scott Peterman who is a teaching fellow at Parsons. ACTIVATE! is a site that provides lesson plan ideas for teachers who want to utilize game design in the classroom to teach STEM Skills. Mr. Peterman utilized GameSalad to show us how, as educators, we can have our students build games themselves and that this teaches them important 21st century skills. He said “STEM and systems thinking is a new literacy. Building games teaches students to think in ways that will be valuable in everything else they do. STEM needs to be thought of as a skill, not as content.”

Day One definitely expanded the ways I thought about games. Day Two begins with a keynote by Jane McGonigal and I’m sure that it will be as enlightening.


Andrew R. Proto taught middle school science for three years before going to work at Apple as a technology instructor. After teaching there for five years, he realized how much he missed his classroom. He recently completed his Masters of Science in Early Childhood Education at Metropolitan College of New York. Follow him on Twitter @MisterProto

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