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G4C: Al Gore Says 'Games Have Clearly Arrived As A Mass Medium'
G4C: Al Gore Says 'Games Have Clearly Arrived As A Mass Medium'
June 20, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander




Forty-seventh U.S. Vice President Al Gore has become a passionate advocate for awareness of global climate issues. But in a Gamasutra-attended speech on Monday at New York University, his focus was on how games can spark real-life change.

In the words of the Ford Foundation's Maya Harris, who introduced Gore as the 2011 Games for Change event's keynote speaker, his presence at the event "underscores the importance of this unique global gathering, and the immense potential for the greater public good by bringing together activists, change agents, technologists and content creators under one roof for the purpose of creating and realizing the impact of the 21st century's largest media platform: Games."

Gore took the stage at NYU's Skirball Center to thunderous applause. "I'm very, very happy to be here and to see this gathering," he says. "I have followed the progress of this group. I've been advised by some friends that I saw at the TED conference this year, so when I had the opportunity to come and join you this year, I seized it," he told the packed theater.

Gore sees this as an interesting era for games, and particularly the arena of games for social good -- despite a time when the global economy is, as he says, "dicey." But he's optimistic: "Certainly this is a sector of the economy that justifies that optimism," he says. Gore cited the pleasure of having worked with Will Wright, who has created interactive program Bar Karma for Current TV, a web TV channel Gore co-founded.

"The aficionados of the games were drawn to create storylines around the games, and [Wright] took that and created a unique piece of software that allows people to create 'story genomes' and then vote on the path the plot takes. Each week, the results of the user votes are given to a production team to develop live programs. "It's been very interesting and award-winning, and it's been great to get to know Will," says Gore.

"Games have clearly arrived as a mass medium," says Gore. "This is a very large, extremely significant industry with a wildly diverse and rapidly-growing audience of players on all kinds of platforms. We already know the immense power of popular media to illuminate issues that can seem intractable and overly-complex, but [through games] can be illuminated and presented to general audiences in a way that invites people to become involved in trying to solve the problems that our society has to solve."

Creators working at the intersection of social media and entertainment are "in the best place to leverage collaborations that can create games for change," the Vice President says.

The biggest issue with which activists are now working is how to translate complex content into new formats. "I could tell you that from my own experience, the secret seems to me to be to get some really good partners who know what they're doing... I found [finding partners with technical ability] a fun challenge -- and not a particularly difficult one."

Gore claims no particular facility with games himself, but says he's enjoyed playing and learning about them. He also says he enjoys meeting with teams as an investor to fund new technologies in this space. "It has been very exciting to me to see so many ideas that integrate social good and efforts to make the world a better place into games."

Over the last few years, "there has been an explosion of interest in games," he says, part of which can be credited to the popularity of the iOS and Android platform, along with Facebook -- all of which have built on the roads paved by video games all along. "Now we've arrived at a point where it's safe to say that games are the new norm for hundreds of millions of users every month," Gore says.

"Game interfaces and scoring rules have become standard... the gamification trend is really, extremely powerful, and you see games dominating the top lists of apps on Facebook and iOS," he adds. "And games are becoming increasingly artful; it's now a craft taught in universities and trade schools, and we all know that learning by doing is one of the best ways to learn."

"What we're seeing in games is art at a world-class stage design that is almost unmatched anywhere else," he says.

Now, we have an opportunity to create "FarmVilles for policy," he joked, expressing his support and enthusiasm for the crowd gathered at the event to learn about the "growing movement" for games for social good.

It seems that everyone from entrepreneurs and NGO want to "gamify" these days, but not everyone knows how to go about it. All kinds of software makers are trying to jump in by arbitrarily adding point systems and leaderboards and taking a "mix-and-stir" aproach, the Vice President observes. But it isn't that easy, of course: "It seems obvious, but crucial to design to the gamer's mind," he notes.

Gore cited Bing Gordon's list of features that make games successful: First, first impressions count: "In the first five seconds, a gamer needs to feel, 'ah, I'm smart! I can do this'," he says. First impressions should also meet or beat expectations, and create measurable expectations on the part of the user.

Second: "They need to win, and win fast, and have a reason to come back, and they need an easy way to invite others to participate. Third, the landing screen is crucial: One of the first rules of any visual media is the quality of the visual... the visual needs to match the type of app or site or game that you are about to play."

The ability of game features to enhance storylines and create meaning through quests, characters and experiences is one of its most promising applications. "And it's amazing that by a three to one ratio, cooperation beats out competition," says Gore. "People want the ability to cooperate with clear rules, and the ability to self-police."

This preference for cooperation and community building is heartening for the games space, says Gore: "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... but the cooperation over competition, and the social rules aspect is gaining momentum."

He notes the impact and crucial value of play among all living things, and is especially drawn to the junction of gamification and social media, noting how Zynga allows FarmVille players to support various causes through the purchase of seeds in the game.

For Gore's part, he personally hopes for a game that can support the momentum of his acclaimed work, An Inconvenient Truth. "I've been encouraged by recent developments like Trash Tycoon and Oceanopolis, and both have spurred my thinking in this area. In closing, I want to say that I'd love to work with any teams that are interested in making games that are focused on solutions to the climate crisis. I look forward to getting to know this community better."

During the Q&A session, when asked about the theory of games-as-escapism -- as ways to flee reality rather than change it -- Gore suggested, "you can say the same thing about books, really. You should try to live completely in the present moment all the time, but none of us do."

He adds, "I do think the concern is well-taken. The immersive quality of games can produce more than the medium's share of people who get so caught up that it really does become an escape. But at it's best it is interesting, fun play... lessons and knowledge that are useful in changing reality for the better."

"I have faith in people and in human nature. During the time they are spending in the game, if there are constructive, valuable lessons, I think that's a good thing."

"You give me cause for tremendous hope," he concluded.


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Comments


Lo Pan
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Al shouldn't you be focusing on your lucrative Global Warming/Climate change spiel? I'm sure his speaking fee alone could have resulted in several very cool casual games.

Marcus Miller
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So speaks the Father of the Internet...

sean lindskog
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Gore gave an extremely positive message about games, and having a former VP of the states talk in this way is a good thing for the game industry. Thumbs up from me.

It's disappointing to see people react to this here with petty snipes that have nothing to do with the content of the article.

Glenn Sturgeon
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I partially agree,

It is good to see a fairly major political figure speak positive about games.



But theres also the fact gore is easy pickin's for a ton of jokes and is realy hard to take seriously.

Joe McGinn
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Never underestimate the ability of truthers to take venomous swipes at their favorite whipping boy.

Harlan Sumgui
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And those of us who think he sold the US down the river when he didn't fight for the election in 2000

Germain Cout
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This shows how truly clairvoyant Al Gore is. He was able to see beyond his generation's fixation on game violence and push the game industry in the right direction. More respect for him.

William Ravaine
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Every time I read or hear "Al Gore", I can't help thinking of Man-Bear-Pig. Doesn't matter how positive his speech was, he's a profesionnal deceiver with an agenda, and that's not good anywhere. Last thing we need is Al Gore pushing more of his propaganda via games.

Glenn Sturgeon
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I'm completely serial!!

Luis Blondet
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What does this man know about the social good? He has attempted to capitalize from the global warming debacle by positioning his company to be the leader in carbon trades, that's like him championing people to buy food for the homeless and then buying all the grocery stores in town.



What a scumbag.



I'm sure he will try to capitalize on well meaning developers in his new scheme for capitalizing on the good will of people.

Joe McGinn
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He's a scumbag for creating a company that wants to make money by saving the world? Okaaaaaaay (backs away slowly)

Cody Scott
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i think what Luis is saying is that he created a company and then used his political office to over exaggerate climate change thus creating a demand for his company that would not have been there other wise.

Joe McGinn
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Might have a point if he had in fact over-exaggerated climate change. Scientific evidence has confirmed that estimates at the time his movie were made were wildly optimistic.

Harlan Sumgui
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All I'll say is that science is not the same thing as media reported science or the PR effort of some scientists.



For example it was a rock solid well know 'fact' that to prevent heart disease, people had to eat a low fat diet. Funny thing is, low fat diets in industrialized countries at least cause an increase in heart disease rates(vs moderate to high fat diets). Yet how long have we been told to eat low fat? God, its got to be going on 40 years now. I have nothing but contempt for PR science and media hacks.

Simon T
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Way to trivialize and misrepresent an important issue Jeff. Congrats.

Joe McGinn
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Jeffrey - arguing against severe climate change at this point, with all the evidence in, is like arguing against the boiling point of water. Climate change deniers at this point are no more rational than Obama birthers.

Paopao Saul
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So much ad hominem in these comments. Only a few here seem to be interested in seeing games as a mass medium.

Joe McGinn
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It's like I said above. Mention the words "Al Gore" in ANY room and the resident truthers will lose all rationality and start foaming at the mouth.

R G
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I think it's curious that it's at this time, when we are in a relative dearth of truly unique games and generally discuss day in and day out how it is "the same old thing". It's a pleasant surprise though to see a politician back the industry up, especially of his age. He didn't really push his agenda, but discussed how games could be used. That just really made my day, just having a nice discussion about it.



With that said, what's up with all the IGN-esque comments on here?

Joe McGinn
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Agree with you Rob. As to your question it's the Gore factor ... he's become such a whipping boy for certain ideologies that for some people rational thought become impossible the moment his name is mentioned. It's a bizarre role for someone who's claim to fame is the equivalent of seeing a fire and pulling the fire alarm.

R G
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@Joe: Yeah. It's just...Idk, it's like lately no one can have a discussion on Gamasutra. We dissolve into (not fun, pointless) arguments over things typically not related to the article.

Rob Schatz
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I was surprised Gore gave props to Facebook. I've watched my in-laws and my wife play those, those, um, things. And there is no goal - it's a Stagnatask. Farmville and Yo!Ville go on forever and forever. True games have goals.


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