Changing hearts, minds and games

The Games for Change Festival got me thinking. Is it better to be smart or sexy? Today's innovators don't see them as being mutually exclusive.
June 19, 2013

Would you rather be smart or sexy? That was my all-consuming thought after attending the 10th annual Games For Change Festival.

The 3-day conferencel is the largest gaming event in New York City, attracting an eclectic crowd of  innovative creators interested in furthering the positive social impact of games. Michael T. Jones, Chief Technology Advocate at Google, opened the Festival with an interesting perspective on ways we use technology.  He divided it into two camps: hearts and minds.  The brainiac part is the authority: the subjective source for information. The emotional part is what speeds up your pulse: winning  a game, satisfying an urge, connecting to a friend.  The difference is apparent in two of his key projects: Google Maps, where you can find the shortest route to the airport; and Google Earth, where you can actually see the tree you used to climb in your old backyard.

Moving the discussion into games, he revealed a project that’s currently in closed BETA. Ingress, marries hearts and minds by encouraging players to get new knowledge, but also get to know each other. In other words, it teaches by engaging. Players have to get up and do something to play the game.

Remembering that play is how kids learn, it’s not surprising that engaging learners through the power of play was a mantra that resonated from indie startups through seasoned developers.  However, the targeted ways and means of engagement were new. From Hide & Seek’s Tiny Games on-the-go, to Half the Sky’s celebrity endorsements, to Brainpop’s GameUp incredibly user-friendly resources for teachers, to Amplify’s Lexica which teaches syntax and spelling using an action game, what consistently set good games apart was a blending of real world and virtual world tactics.

Ian Bogost took issue with the very term “serious games.” Entertainment and enlightenment do NOT have to be separate entities. Nowhere was this more evident than in the SEXECT.ORG Game Design Competition where game creators competed to create a concept of a safe-sex awareness game for teens.. The winning game, Safe Sex with Friends, designed by Kaho Abe, Ramsey Nasser and Sarah Schoemann, is a social Web and mobile game that uses a simple pick-up-and-play mechanic to teach young adults about using protection for safer sex. Approachable, entertaining, and definitely enlightening.

Which brings me back to my original question. Smart can be sexy; sexy can be smart. Angelina Jolie, watch your back.

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