I am at the Games 4 Change Festival (http://www.gamesforchange.org/fest2009) which bills itself as “the only festival dedicated to the exciting new movement of Digital Games for Social Change.” This is one of the premiere gatherings of game designers and developers, academics, activists and funders. Everyone here is passionate about their craft and committed to having an impact on the world. But something doesn’t feel quite right.
One of the big topics at G4C is how to get funding for game projects. Everyone needs funding. Everyone wants to know how to find, or qualify, for funding. Without funding, there would be no serious games – and there would be no social change the results from them. Its a big deal.
But, I am not convinced that the funders really understand the potential of games. The people in the audience are chasing the people on stage, if you will, but it should be the other way around. It should be the other way around.
For example, the consensus seems to be that the projects that get funded are the ones that can demonstrate success. Foundations want to fund projects that they know can address a certain challenge or answer a particular question. Investors and media companies want to fund games that they know will get attention and generate revenue. Academics want to study games that prove a particular theory or test a certain behavior. There is still a bias towards short-term results — which is a big challenge when the outcome is social change. And everyone has a threshold that games must meet before they can find funding or support.
How will we know a game has potential to change the world until we build it? How will we know what audiences are going to do with a project until we can actually observe them? How do we know the investment we make is worthwhile until we look back from the future and analyze the return?
This conference is supposed to ‘how to’ focused — to give people who want to build games that have an impact on social the tools, and guidance, and support to pursue their ideas. But the people with the ideas are the ones who understand what is happening in the world. The person who has mapped out a game concept is way ahead of the person who is being asked to finance that game’s development.
We are seeing some best practices. There are some successful case studies for building games that have an impact on society. But the impact that games have the potential to have is far greater than we have realized. And we won’t realize it until the funding for games becomes more readily available and less challenging to acquire — until we are able put games online (or similar) and get people playing.
Like I said, I don’t think the people being asked to fund serious games understand the potential of games. Which leads me to believe they shouldn’t be the ones in control of whether we are able to innovate or not. The people in the audience are chasing the people on stage, if you will, but it should be the other way around.