Still Buffering: Gore Crashes At Games For Change

June 27, 2011       Samuel Fanburg      

Proclaiming, “games have clearly arrived as a mass medium,” former Vice President Al Gore delivered the keynote speech to the Games for Change Festival last week, as members of the audience quietly questioned his involvement in the festival, while nodding in indifference toward his generic statements.

Speaking to more than 600 game developers, game makers and representatives focused on games for nonprofit organizations, Gore tried to highlight the new found utility in using gaming for social change, but actually illustrated his own unfamiliarity of the game making process.

The Games for Change Festival held on the New York University campus brings together gamers and game makers around the country who focus their efforts on developing products that can help encourage social change. Apart from outlining best practices for game makers, Gore talked about the long-term effects that can come from the “gamification” of social change.

“We have the ability to invite people to become involved with others trying to fix society’s problem,” said Gore. “By working at the intersection of technology, you are in the best place to leverage new collaborations that can create ‘games for change,’ using this deeply engaged medium.” Fairly new to the field of game making, Gore admitted that the last game he was proficient at is “Pong.” However, after transforming his book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, into an iPad app on the iOS operating system, Gore believed he learned fundamentals of game design along with tools for healthy collaboration.

“It represented a challenge unlike what you are wrestling with,” said Gore. “How to translate complex content into a brand new format. From my experience, it helps to get some really good partners. How you ensure the integrity of content is enhanced, and not compromised, is by having partners immersed in technology.”

Leaning on recommendations from partners Bing Gordon, former executive for Electronic Arts and Will Wright, Sims creator, Gore suggested certain qualities that can make social good games more successful than others.

* Gamers First — Gore advised keep gamers in mind at all times when designing a product. Gamers need to feel smart. The end result should be good or better than originally expected.

* Winning — Gamers need to feel as if they are accomplishing their goals, said Gore. Making sure the gamers have a reason to come back is a priority. Have your users win, and win fast.

* Wow! Moments — Just like any other video game, social change games need entertainment value that can lead users to “pump their fist” in excitement.

* Cooperation — Gore contended that cooperation beats out competition by 3:1. With clear rules and the ability to self-police, game-makers can work in a much more productive environment.

Continuing to claim no expertise on gaming, Gore said he believes that gaming is becoming more and more in-sync in conforming to daily activities. Each spare second lends itself to completing a new level on a mobile game, or when using social networks like Facebook and Twitter, users can play games as well.

“I have always been excited about making a game enhancing the message of An Inconvenient Truth,” said Gore. “It’s no joke that it’s getting worse, but I’d want to underscore the fact that we’ve been delaying way to long the solutions that are desperately in need. I’m optimistic that soon we will have various games to launch.”

Gore did not have any details on the games his Alliance for Climate Protection were producing but asked game developers at the conference to contact him about potential ideas. S

ingling out the social media game company Zynga, Gore contended that by building communities in these games, they could leverage their involvement for more important causes.

“These social communities say something positive about us and what gamification can do. This industry is sometimes defined by some of the lowest common denominator games,” said Gore, “(but) I’ve been encouraged by recent developments like Trash Tycoon and Oceanopolis, and both have spurred my thinking in this area.”

Developed by Greenopolis, Oceanopolis is a Facebook game that has users taking responsibility for a plot of land, allowing for sustainable use of resources, while taking care of excess waste. Trash Tycoon, programmed by Guerillapps and similar to Oceanopolis, has gamers taking care of their own “cities” by cleaning up trash areas and becoming knowledgeable on environmental issues.

During the Q&A session following the keynote with the Ford Foundation’s Democracy, Rights and Justice Program Vice President Maya Harris, Gore was asked how politicians feel about gaming, and where he thinks the most profound effects of social change will come from.

Gore said that the widespread acceptance of games would tell leaders this is important but leaders “often lag when new technology is brought up. The combination of ‘gamification’ and social media is very powerful and will find its place in the discoveries in science and among other trends people find important.”

Gore also positioned private-public relationships as a way to produce social change saying, “I think we are seeing a powerful trend in capitalism towards ‘sustainable capitalism.’ When companies can give people a feeling that their involvement is much more than just profit, there is a reflection of a higher fraction of human potential. We have more hard work and energy going to the collective. I’m rooting for them.”