Video games are broader than ever and full of opportunity, which makes now a better time than ever to be making titles that effect positive social change, says Entertainment Software Association president Michael Gallagher. However, addressing audiences at this year's Games For Change festival, he had advice for those entering the field.
The ESA has stated an active commitment to supporting the strength and potential of games in arenas beyond entertainment. The trade body that represents U.S. game developers continues to work closely with the education community, Gallagher says, as with the STEM Video Game Challenge. That program recently saw some 4,200 applicants, an all-time high, thanks to partnerships with organizations like PBS and the National Boys and Girls Clubs.
It's also seeking further partnerships in the field of health and wellness: The President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition now recognizes that fitness and activity games can be part of a recommended healthy lifestyle, for example.
"No other medium in entertainment has achieved the same amount of technological advancement... as computer and video games," Gallagher says. "The game audience has broadened, matured and diversified."
Recently-revealed ESA stats show 49 percent of homes now have a console, and 68 percent of today's gamers are over the age of 18.
"Looking to the future, today's youth are the first generation since our industry's birth in which nearly everyone has played a game," he continues.
The growth and democratization of games and of the tools to make them mean more and more educators and policy makers have come to see games as valuable tools for teaching, workplace success and tackling social issues.
However, there are still challenges for those looking to work in this field: "Trying to find your space and be successful is difficult for commercial enterprise just as it is to those that are committed to the principles of what games for change stand for," says Gallagher.
Often, academics and philanthropists learn that games have the potential to inform and engage -- and their result is plodding simulators or didactic experiences that feel very "classroom" at the expense of fun. This is known to be one of the big challenges plaguing the field of gmaes for social good.
"Games should be fun: It's the prime directive," Gallagher weighs in. "We should all endeavor to make games that are engaging, even if the subject matter is serious... with rigorous adherence to quality."
High-quality tools and working with knowledgeable, experienced designers is another key pillar: "Make sure you're engaging with top flight game designers who actually are the best," Gallager tells the G4C audience, which is often composed of people from outside the world of games who are looking for the best way to leverage gaming trends and design knowledge to teach or to support causes.
Finally, funding strategy is important: Many don't look beyond a single grant, Gallagher suggests. "Too often in game design there is a cliff that's out there when it comes to funding, and you want to make sure you have a model for your game that embraces concepts that are in the market today that can give it a longer runway," he concludes.