Games For Change Festival Europe '16

Games for Change (G4C) is a not-for-profit organisation based around the facilitation and discussion of games and gaming for positive social impact, particularly for humanitarian or educational purposes. This year's G4C Europe festival was no different, having a theme of 'Immigration, Integration, and Self-Esteem Restoration', and fueled by the current immigration crisis' in Syria, in Calais, and across the world. The festival itself was organised into a series of talks and open discussions between enthusiasts of many backgrounds, all joined by their passion for promoting gaming for good. 

A few developers were demoing their recent game titles, each bucking the trend of typical gaming tropes. Presented were ideas to celebrate heritage (like Never Alone by Colabee Studios, created with over 40 Alaskan native storytellers), to promote diversity (like CRI Paris tackling gender exclusion in India through games). Pierre-and-Marie-Curie University aimed to engagingly teach information literacy through their game Hellink; a skill particularly useful for academics like myself, who need to reliably source information and remain factual and impartial, but also, as their presentation ties to the G4C festival, for the general layperson looking to obtain an objective view on heavily political issues like immigration. Another trait particularly useful for both academics and non-academics alike is creativity, which Mi'pu'mi Games explores in The Lion's Song, which seeks to expose the core elements of how musicians, scientists, artists, and the like, find inspiration for their work.

One of the writers of The Lion's Song is Lee Sheldon, game designer and lecturer, who also wrote a book entitled The Multiplayer Classroom, which leads nicely to another recurring theme of the festival: gaming as community. One of the long-term aims of this festival is the collaboration of multiple parties to design and build a game to combat problems refugees are facing today. A prominent issue is active discrimination against refugees, but perhaps in a virtual world xenophobia will become redundant? Both Ken Perlin and Jean-Colas Prunier explore this idea with a "Shared Future Reality" and "Transformative Power of VR", respectively. In non-VR gaming this topic was also the focus of the finished game of the Festival's Hackathon, which puts the player into the role of a refugee in order to demonstrate that no two refugees share the same story. As the designers put so well: "Together we are stronger: integration means learning and living together in a multicultural society.". Anne Poiret's documentary 'Welcome to Refugeestan' only cemented that ideal, and clearly demonstrated the difficulties in reaching it.

As was discussed by refugees, humanitarian workers, and educators at the event, mobile phones and access to technology is a number one priority for refugees and migrants, perhaps even more so than food or shelter in some circumstances. Connected technologies allow refugees to communicate instantly with one another, share life-saving information, send and receive aid, and break down language barriers in their current country of occupation. It was shared that a common first goal of refugees upon entering a new city or country, 'legally' or otherwise, is to seek out the nearest Starbucks or McDonald's for open access to WiFi and charging sockets. With this in mind it is not uncouth to consider putting games into the hands of refugees directly.

So we looked at what games might be beneficial to refugees, and what considerations should be made. The language barrier is an obvious one, so anything we designed would have to be language-free or easily translatable. Also, Refugee advocate Cheija Abdaleh, TED-Ed producer Biljana Labovic, and Al Baydha Development Corporation Managing Director Mona Hamdy all spoke about the difficulties children have in balancing education and play in communities where both are in short supply. I have a great interest in the therapeutic uses of gaming, particularly between child and carer, and, after a play of The Brain Architecture Game (in which you build physical metaphors for early cognitive development, with negative events stunting growth) with it's designer Marientina Gotsis, my group wanted to outline a game in which a young refugee and another player of any creed, background, or ethnicity, can cooperatively play and grow together.

Bohemian indie collectives like Game Impact (run by Charlie Carpéne and Simon Charnut), MakeSense, and student teams (like that of the hackathon) are to be taking the lead on development of an 'official' Games For Change game. Many excellent game concepts came out of the event, far too many to share here, so if you would like to know more you'll just have to join me in anticipatorily awaiting progress updates before next year's Games for Change Europe event.