Games for Change Festival – Day 2 Recap

Games for Change Festival – Day 2 Recap


Tuesday the festival opened with a keynote by the ever enlightening Jane McGonigal.  Most of her talk was focused on the history of her self improvement game, SuperBetter. While this information is interesting, and the story of her recovery inspirational, it was a lot of information she’d already presented at other times.

However, she than spoke of how many people, when they find out what she does for a living, say something to the effect of “On your death bed you’ll regret playing all of those games.” So many different people said this to her that she actually began researching what the most common regrets are that people have as they are getting ready to die. She found a study on this very topic done by hospice workers. That study, and the rest of her research on this topic,  can be found here ShowMeTheScience

The top five regrets people have on their deathbed are:

  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I stayed in touch with family and friends.
  • I wish I let myself be happier.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to be my true self.
  • I wish I had been true to my dreams and not what others expected of me.

It’s plain to anyone with even a passing interest in taking games seriously, that rather than being something you regret, games can help prevent the major regrets that people suffer from. Ms. McGonigal then went about detailing  some explicit ways in which they fight those regrets.  It was a very moving talk and I highly recommend everyone to check out the website in which she details her research.

The next talk that caused a big stir was by Ian Bogost. Mr. Bogost is a Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology and has designed many conceptually interesting  games. One of the more famous examples of this is his game “Cow Clicker” which was a Facebook game designed to be a satire of Facebook games.

Mr. Bogost spoke about newspapers and specifically the crossword, comic-strips, and most importantly political cartoons. He points out that these were traditionally an entry point into the newspaper, and many people started reading the newspaper because of them.  He wants to create a system that allows news games (games that have something to say about current events) to be quickly authored by anyone. With Game-o-Matic he intends to make this a reality.

Game-o-Matic (currently in beta) allows the user to input Nouns (such as wild fires, homes, or firemen) and Verbs (like destroys or fights) into a idea web. The software then recognizes the relationships you’ve created and creates a game around them, leaving the user free to skin the game with whatever images he wishes.

Admittedly, the games it creates weren’t very good; but they weren’t meant to be. Mr. Bogost stated that he sees Game-o-Matic like a disposable camera, it’s meant for the average user, allowing them to express him or herself through a game as easily as they can through a photo — and at that it definitely succeeds

One of the major themes explored by many of the speakers was bio-metric readers.  It seems as if now that motion controllers are a given possibility for video games, biometrics may be where we’re headed.  These devices are worn by the user and can read what their stress level is, adjusting the game accordingly.  I feel that this was best exemplified by DOJO. DOJO is a game that trains children to better control their emotions.  Through the use of a biometric sensor DOJO increases the difficulty of the game as the child becomes more angered, frightened, and frustrated.  The players are instructed in a variety of mental exercises to help them control their stress level, when used this makes the game easier to win. The idea is that students will be able to carry these techniques over into their everyday life. My feeling is that as the technology becomes cheaper and smaller, we’re going to be seeing more and more of this type of emotionally controlled game.

The closing keynote was given by Nolan Bushnell, Founder of Atari and the creator of Pong.  By and far this was the most divisive talk of the festival. Some people I spoke to saw it as uninformed and not very useful.  I disagree. While it is true that his talk did not break any new ground, I feel that it is just the sort of argument that we’ll need if gamification will ever get broad appeal. It was emotionally charged and very general, not backed up by any specifically cited scientific studies. It may have been seen as lacking by some in the highly educated audience he was speaking to, but I feel that we would do well to learn from Mr. Bushnell and remember that at the end of the day we need a wide variety of people to believe in the theories being put forward if games truly are going to change the world.

Tomorrow is the last day of G4C and it will begin with a keynote by Dr. James Paul Gee. I’m sure that it will be as enlightening as these past 2 days have been.

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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