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GDC: Wright, Molyneux, Gordon, and Lanning on Games and Social Change
GDC: Wright, Molyneux, Gordon, and Lanning on Games and Social Change
March 27, 2009 | By Brandon Sheffield

March 27, 2009 | By Brandon Sheffield
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More: Console/PC, GDC



It’s hard to imagine a more star-studded panel on games for social change than one which contains Peter Molyneux, Will Wright, Bing Gordon, and Lorne Lanning. Though the topics were rushed through due to time, and the entire discussion can’t be encapsulated here, each speaker shared a number of quotable statements.

Peter Molyneux

(on the current state of progressive games)“I think we’re doing pretty good. We have brain training, we have The Sims, we have lots of games that teach social messages. But one thing I think we’re not doing too well is games that can mix the old with the young. And is there a way that we can take someone from one nationality, and glorify their uniqueness [without pitting them against eachother].”

(on games’ impact on people) “If you walk away from a piece of entertainment and then look at yourself in a slightly different way, I think that’s great. And designing a game around that – that’s what parts of Fable are. I didn’t really think about this when I helped design it, it’s just part of what happened when developing the game.”

“If someone plays a game and walks away from it thinking ‘this must never happen in the world, or in my community,’ that’s a really amazing thing.”

(on multiplayer) “I think some interesting things are happening. Firstly everyone’s connected together now. Well most of them. We have cooperative games, and that’s really interesting. That’s a really good social bonding message behind there. I think you’ll find more and more things going behind that kind of cooperative experience. I think you’ll see more and more things talking about cultural differences and things. There’s a real positive thing there when someone from North Korea is meeting up with someone from America, and there’s a really positive thing to come from that.”

Will Wright

(on emotional impact) “One of the most emotionally powerful games I’ve ever played was when I first started playing Black and White. And just for the hell of it I was just harassing the hell out of these characters, and they were crying, and bruised, and I actually felt guilty. I never felt guilty watching TV, or a movie.”

(on repercussions) “I think violence in games is perfectly appropriate, but we never show the consequences.” “I think the rest of the game should show the rest of your life in prison!”

(on the future of socially progressive games) “I’d like to see World of Warcraft playable in flash, on facebook, where my kids and I can play together. Or Second Life done right.”

Bing Gordon

(on emotion)“I had three kids playing The Sims before it launched. And after about an hour watching fascinated, I went to go do adult things, and I heard a blood curdling scream.” Someone had bricked up his kid’s Sims mom in a room and killed her, Gordon explained. “A computer can make you cry, when Will has created a game.”

(on games as teachers) “Kids spend 25 hours a week in jail, what we call school, but I would submit kids learn more useful things in games than they do in school. I think it’s a better place to learn algebra, or reading, or in The Sims, it’s a better place to learn storytelling.” “We have more good game designers than the game industry needs, for the first time ever. We don’t need a bailout for the videogame business, we need videogames to bail out the culture.”

“I want to shout out to social games. I would submit that social games like on Facebook improve social relationships. We have a group of young people who have better social relationships than ever before. One measure of social games is that they don’t only let people have fun, but also get people to interact better.”

Lorne Lanning

(on disposable society) “We always have the tendency to look at entertainment like it’s food. If the wrapper is attractive enough, you can slip pure garbage in there.” And our society is reflecting the pure garbage input, he says. “When I look at it I think how do we engage in the first place? What is it that the market is eating, and how do we present something that’s interesting to them? The other thing is how well do you sleep at night. [When making Oddworld] we were told several times ‘you know, I feel great, I’m publishing a game that I can go home and show my kids.’”

(on games as teachers) “We could change the face of education, it could be console-based, but we don’t do it. Basically every church is tax-free, but if it comes to using technology to educate our kids, there’s no support.”




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Comments


Reid Kimball
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Best comment in this write up is Bing's "We don’t need a bailout for the videogame business, we need videogames to bail out the culture."



Peter said "we have lots of games that teach social messages"? I would like to know which ones he's thinking of. Most of the social issue games are smaller flash or indie games, not the big budget AAA titles.



When has a game garnered mainstream press for the issue it deals with, like the movie, Blood Diamond? It put a lot of pressure on the diamond industry to sell conflict free diamonds. Has there been a game that's had the same widespread impact? I don't think so, but please tell me if I'm mistaken.



I support social issue games but am frustrated so little has been done by the bigger publishers and developers.

Mike Lopez
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@ Reid,



I agree it is a shame that games have not dealt with such social issues as movies and TV, but you're history of blood diamonds is off. The Kimberley Process of diamond certification was initiated in 2003 to prevent the trade of blood diamonds. The movie Blood Diamond obviously followed 4 years later and while it was highly successful in raising public awareness it did not pressure the industry to make any changes since the changes had already been adopted. The film was set in 1999 so it used the later adoption of the Kimberley Process as a plot payoff.

Reid Kimball
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Mike, thanks for setting me straight.



Silly of me to think the movie and a game could have a direct affect on a billion dollar industry. For any industry to change, pressure must come from their customers/clients and not a videogame. Through a game though you can potentially raise awareness and inspire someone to change their behavior, which then puts necessary pressure on the hands that feed the injustice.



Didn't Obama say this during a speech?

"If you can change a man, you can change a city.

If you can change a city, you can change a state.

If you can change a state, you can change a country.

And if you can change a country, you can change the world."

Audry Taylor
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Wright talked about feeling guilty because of the way he played a game. That happened to me, as well, when I played Nintendogs. I have a real dog. Every time I took my virtual dog out for a virtual walk, I felt guilty for not paying attention to my real dog -- so I put the game down and took him out. I didn't get very far in that game, but I did become a better pet owner. ;-) I bet I wasn't the only one affected in this way.



To repeat the Obama quote:

"If you can change a man, you can change a city.

If you can change a city, you can change a state.

If you can change a state, you can change a country.

And if you can change a country, you can change the world."



Regarding Lanning's comment on games as education, putting games in the classroom as educational tools could be a cause supported by the most successful studios in the industry, those flush enough to be able to give back to the community. Have they considered working with schools to develop affordable or even free edu-games? On a similar note, have they considered the possibility that gaming could *fund* underfunded schools? Can you imagine the benefits schools would see if they had even a small portion of the revenue brought in by the world's largest MMOs?



What would it take, I wonder, to create a school-based MMO that directly benefited the schools themselves?

Reid Kimball
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Such a great idea... students love games, want to learn to be developers, why not have them create a game that could generate revenue for the school and improve their schools?



Unfortunately, something to keep in mind is the accessibility of games in the classroom with disabled students. The Game Accessibility SIG can provide more info if people are interested.

Noah Falstein
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My favorite moment during the panel was when Will referenced Gilligan's Island. I had actually cut a Gilligan's Island slide out of a talk I gave recently when I realized that none of the game developers I was addressing knew the series, despite the online availability. I thought perhaps I'd been too precipitate when I heard Will use it - until I glanced at the guy next to me, who had pulled out his smart phone and was feverishly reading through the Wikipedia entry on Gilligan's Island...

kushka 53
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"One measure of social games is that they don’t only let people have fun, but also get people to interact better.” REALLY?

Bing Gordon's comments, as excerpted here, are totally irresponsible and not based on any sort of legitimate scientific study. It's irritating to read this, as it's cheerleading inside the industry bubble and preaching to the choir--many of whom just want to jump on the bandwagon and stay there. At best, it's just plain misleading. There is no formal proof that computer games of any kind get people to interact better in a significant way, indeed, the development of human biological behavior is based on genetics, parenting, and real world interactions and dynamics which are something than can never be totally emulated through computers, ever. Elaborate AI and a web cam is one thing to capture microexpressions, but pheromes and other cues will never be able to travel through a computer. What gets people to interact better are stable systems of laws, housing, food, employment, good education and stewardship of natural resources so the resources don't vanish. When these systems start to fail, you get Rwanda, Pol Pot, Bosnia, just to name a few in recent years. I've been to these places and seen how humans get unhinged, and all the social gaming in the world would not have stopped it. Games are great, but KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS!!!


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