The Talk This! team is fresh out of three days of learning and fun at the Games for Change Festival in New York City! We are both extremely fascinated with the field (if you’ve been with us since the beginning, you may remember our Games for Change Mondays on Facebook) and took the chance to learn more by attending the conference. We wanted to share some highlights from all three days!
Thursday at Games for Change: Emma’s Sleepy, Madeyn’s Scavenging
Thursday started bright and early for Emma as she got on a train to NYC from DC at the totally reasonable time of 6:20 AM. Since she was staying in Madelyn’s teeny-tiny apartment, she was trying to avoid one more night on the air mattress in the kitchen. Since she got in around 9, the Talk This! team missed the early keynotes, but arrived at the New School location right before the first sessions.
Our favorite sessions, however, came in the afternoon. Kristen Cook from Sesame Street spoke about their game for coping with trauma (particularly childhood trauma)- Big Bird’s Comfy Cozy Nest. You may see a trend in this post: we were big fans of talks that were specific and had reasonable goals associated with their projects.
As high school theater critics (so many years ago now), we were also impressed by the educational programs of the New York Videogame Critics Circle. One of their students was attending the Festival and spoke briefly and eloquently about the many opportunities that the organization has provided her- including an internship! We’re jealous, that’s all we’re going to say.
We heard Kelli Dunlap from iThrive Games talk about mental health representation in video games. It’s always important to think about how you’re portraying mental health in games, even if it’s not a game for impact. Horror games, for instance, often use insane asylums as short-hand for “be scared,” which isn’t great. Also, the only therapist she could find in games was Dr. Isiah Friedlander from GTA V. That says enough on its own.
The big name at the end of day one was Ubisoft and their Assassin’s Creed: Origins Discovery Tour. It’s great that a company as big as Ubisoft is using a name as big as Assassin’s Creed to promote learning games. However, their historian admitted that they’ve still got room to grow towards making the game effective.
Games We Tried!
Between sessions, the team also got to try a few award nominees for a brief period, including Attentat 1942 (nominated for Best Learning Game) and Please Knock on My Door (nominated for Best Gameplay). The last one got a bit too real- both seemed like worthy nominees. Fellow nominee What Remains of Edith Finch had already featured on our podcast (check our episode on it!), and Emma’s a big fan of Hellblade. Between sessions, Madelyn also grabbed a few more KIND Bars than she may like to admit. She’s a young person in New York, you gotta eat what you can!
Friday at Games for Change: The Team Splits Up!
We ended up skipping the morning keynotes again because we’re young and lazy at heart. However, Friday was still packed with great content for the team! So much great content, in fact, that we had to take different routes in the afternoon.
Emma listened to a presentation on the Xbox Adaptive Controller, an amazing project from Microsoft. She hopes to see Nintendo and Sony follow their lead on that soon. It was particularly great to hear from people who used the controller themselves, rather than merely a Microsoft spokesperson! Since we worship at the altar of Sony and toss scraps to Nintendo, we find ourselves generally skeptical of Microsoft. But, in this case, they did a great job.
Meanwhile, Madelyn checked out Schell Games’ HoloLAB VR Chemistry Lab on behalf of our chemistry teacher mother. She found their impressive fluid technology impressive, even if they didn’t end up using it for much. She appreciated their humor about the challenges of mixing VR and chemistry.
The team met back up to hear thoughts about the WHO’s proposed “gaming disorder.” Thoughts came from Kelli Dunlap (again!) of iThrive Games, Lindsay Grace (director of the Game Lab at American University), and Victoria Van Voorhis of Second Avenue Learning. The panel was moderated by Jenn McNamara of BreakAway Games. We agreed with the consenus that a “gaming disorder” is probably more likely a manifestation of something else than its own treatable condition.
Then, of course, as champions of local co-op, we had to listen to Moonray Studio’s presentation on Debrie. It’s a 2-player game which explores psychosis. While the game has received the dreaded Mixed rating on Steam, we found the reflections on the project to be very interesting. Maybe we’ll have to try it out ourselves!
The end of the day brought Riot Games in to talk about social impact for all stakeholders. Honestly, it’s always good to hear some talk about social impact from a more practical standpoint. League of Legends leverages its players towards causes they actually care about. This creates a much more enthusiastic attitude towards charitable donations than just picking a cause at random.
Saturday at XR for Change: First Time Using the Vive Goes as You Might Expect
We began with a great overview of the XR field and how to use it for good with three creators- Jesse Ayala, Asad Malik, and Shannon Carrol- with different opinions. Overall, people are still experimenting with what XR can do in this sphere. Since both VR and AR are such new technologies, that can’t be helped.
However, we really enjoyed two presentations on projects that seemed to have a well-defined target audience and reasonable goals. Courtney D. Cogburn presented on 1000 Cut Journey, one of the games available to try at the Festival. She brought up some ways to make the virtual reality more like reality through physical movement of the body. Even just seeing your avatar’s face in mirrors instead of your own can help players feel connected. We also enjoyed hearing about how VR is helping kids with autism learn skills from object location to dealing with police from Vijay Ravidran from Floreo.
Unfortunately, the day had to come to an end a bit early after Emma’s experience with The Lost City of Mer. While the game seemed beautiful and affecting, the experience was tarnished by some finicky location tracking. If you don’t know what that means, picture your vision just suddenly jerking to the side without your body. Or worse, just swirling around. Needless to say, it got Emma a bit too nauseous and woozy for processing more information. Emma’s never used the Vive before and maybe never will again. However, that’s mostly because of the price tag.
Overall, the Talk This! team loved our experience at Games for Change and hope to head to more conferences in the future. Emma will be hitting the Smithsonian American Art Museum Arcade closer to the end of July and who knows? Maybe she’ll finally win that scholarship to GDC. Otherwise, there’s Boston FIG and PAX East in Boston, so maybe Madelyn will be able to join her up there this year for one of those!
If you were at the Festival, tell us about your own experience in the comments or by sending us a ping on any of our social media channels.