Games for Change, Entertainment before Education

I've spent the last three days attending the Games For Change festival in NYC. With keynotes by Jesse Schell, Jane McGonigal, and Nolan Bushnell (founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese, among others), it was a really interesting mix of game design, activism, and inspiration.

Much of the content over the three days was fascinating, though of course there were ups and downs – some case studies that weren't very interesting, some major organizational difficulties, etc. There was a really great talk by Scott Nicholson about games in the library and how to partner with librarians to bring your games to communities (during which he revealed that, including school libraries, there are more libraries in the States than there are most major fast food chains combined).

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I was here of course with Karen on behalf of The Time Tribe, it being the game for change I'm working on. Much of the content over the three days was stuff we kind of knew – principles of game design, the power of games to make for better education, all the stuff we're predicated on. Though of course it's always nice to get a refresher on those things and the excitement that can come with it. We got a few good ideas out of it for the planning of content going forward.

But one of the things we noticed was that when it comes to educational games, the focus is almost always on games in the classroom, games with measurable educational results. And those games always have such huge guidelines that must be adhered to, and so often result in, well, not fun games.

It really just drove home for me, I think, that The Time Tribe really isn't “an educational game”. We're a game. We're an awesome adventure game with an epic storyline and time travel. The fact that it's historically accurate, that there's more information available if you want it, that it will get kids thinking critically and understanding multiple points of view and cultures, is just a bonus.

We want to be a game first, and while games have an amazing potential to bring change in an individual, to educate far better than the typical modern classroom, we can't ever let a desire to do that get in the way of the desire to make a great game.