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by Lori McDaniel, President, Voices of Hope Productions

Game. n. - An activity providing entertainment or amusement; a pastime.

Video games have become ever more popular in recent years and have surpassed Hollywood in box office revenues. As the technology matures, a new trend is emerging: harnessing the power of this popular medium to bring about awareness of social issues, with the potential to solve them in a game. Fighting poverty. Fostering leadership skills in inner city youth. Understanding the human rights crisis in Darfur. Seems like a neat idea and package, but will it work? Activist gamers are betting that digital video games will provide a platform that is highly engaging, challenging, empowering and educational by nature.

In late June hundreds of nonprofits, partners in the gaming industry, local and state governments, foundations, and artists convened at the Parsons New School for Design, in New York City, for the third annual Games for Change Conference. Games for Change (G4C) provides support, visibility and shared resources to organizations and individuals using digital games for social change.

The 2006 conference showcased state of the art gaming and evaluated outcomes achieved since the conference's inception in 2004. G4C acts as a national and international hub to help organizations network and develop videogame projects beyond their traditional expertise.

Recently I watched Lord of War, a film about an arms dealer who sells arms to governments, dictators, mobsters and genocide-perpetrators. This dark, disturbing drama is loosely based on a true story, but it's easy to see how this film could be translated into a video game in today's market. Although Lord of War sheds light on a huge global problem and demonstrates why the characters take part in these dealings, the film seems to glorify a career in gun-running. Lord of War builds an awareness, and is educational and engaging, but the viewer who is watching for pure entertainment, doesn't seek, nor find a solution for change.

An activist video game has a similar problem — avid gamers are interested in video games for entertainment. What will it take to make a player who solves a world problem in a game — make a leap to act on it?


PeaceMaker is a video game simulation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: a tool that can be used to promote a peaceful resolution among Israelis, Palestinians and young adults worldwide

What makes activist gaming unique is that there's a wide-range of interested stakeholders from nonprofits, the military, science and technology, corporations, and academia that could potentially work collaboratively to develop the medium and the tools to combine entertainment and social change. Never before have these sectors come together to exchange ideas and advance social awareness in a digital forum that could be used by the masses. This cross-fertilization of sectors could be quite successful in may ways. Benjamin Stokes, co-executive director of the Games for Change conference says “We want to serve as connectors and bring the video-game industry into the social change sector.”

A recent study conducted at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has shown that multiplayer online games can expose gamers to alternate world-views and promote sociability. According to Constance Steinkuehler, a Professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Dmitri Williams, a Professor of Speech Communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign liken these virtual multi-player game worlds to coffee shops or pubs where "social bridging" can take place. The two researchers explain that in this virtual world gamers experience people, views and cultures that they might not be exposed to without the game playing. "...Spending time in these social games helps people meet others not like them, even if it doesn't always lead to strong friendships. That kind of social horizon-broadening has been sorely lacking in American society for decades," say Steinkuehler and Williams.

Darfur is Dying Help Stop the Crisis in Darfur-End the Killing

Presently there's a small number of activist gamers getting sponsored by corporations, but if these activist videos don't gain mass-market appeal, then they will have trouble getting corporate funding. If they get foundation funding, they will need to measure an outcome that shows behavioral change. Injecting social issue awareness into any medium is a positive step. But the real answer lies in distribution—distribution— distribution. Through collaboration with the right organizations and the right individuals, charging minimally and with the same grassroots outreach that social issue filmmakers use, activist gamers might just see their video game ambitions come to fruition.

A Force More Powerful is
a unique collaboration of experts on nonviolent conflict working with veteran game designers has developed a simulation game that teaches the strategy of nonviolent conflict. A dozen scenarios, inspired by recent history, include conflicts against dictators, occupiers, colonizers and corrupt regimes, as well as struggles to secure the political and human rights of ethnic and racial minorities and women.


Serious Games Source

Social Impact Games

Dmitri Williams | Social and Economic Impacts of Media

Video Games and the Future of Learning


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Partner with Voices of Hope Productions to market your message, develop your documentary video story, or advocate for your cause. You can be assured we will work with you to raise awareness of your organization, and build resources to bring about positive and lasting change-one story at a time.



"The first thing to keep in mind, is that your objective is not to make a 'TV show' or a 'show' of any kind. You are collecting evidence; you are encouraging witness; you are emboldening ordinary people to 'go public.'"

George Stoney from forward in
Turn on the Power! Using Media for









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Voices of Hope Productions
New Jersey