Games for Change

June 5, 2008 – Just returned from Games for Change in NYC where I spent four days with old friends and colleagues talking, thinking and interrogating the issues surrounding serious games. The event itself was incredibly inspiring — it is quickly becoming my favorite game conference. But the conversations around the panels are really what I find so stimulating.

Karen Sideman and Frank Lantz led another foray into the unasked questions of the conference. This one, entitled “Resolved: Games are not a Medium” addressed the problematic assumption that games are a medium that can convey messages in the way we expect from media such as books and cinema.

Frank’s contribution to the set up for this discussion included a supremely moving reading of Dave Hickey’s The Heresy of the Zone Defense. This passionate description of the joy attendant in a single, masterful, public, moment of play had some game designers in the audience (myself included) in or near tears. Because seldom is it that we hear so beautifully described exactly why it is that we do what we do. That we love games — not because they might some day be more like other aesthetic forms to which they are often compared, but because they already produce such moments that can not be found in other, non-participatory forms.

The discussion following this reading was abruptly truncated due to the tight schedule, but a number of people felt so strongly about the questions raised, that we stayed to talk about them after the conference was over. As I mentioned above, Games for Change is quickly becoming one of my favorite games conferences. And the reason is, that the issue of games as purveyors of specific rhetoric, as the proponents of change, is absolutely in question.

There is an inherent tension regarding the structure games as an aesthetic form and the program of games making statements regarding change. That tension, that lack of certainty, and the conversations around it, is what makes the conference a place of passionate discussion and discovery. I came back to LA still carrying on an internal dialog regarding those issues and that is the real value of such a gathering. Not to see demos or network, but have oneself jolted out of the everyday experience of what we know and what we do. To listen and argue with ideas that, while they may not be new, are expertly articulated by those we respect, love and quite often disagree with.

What a great time — I can’t wait to do it again.