More Than Entertainment


Video games play a variety of roles in people’s lives. They can alleviate the desire to strangle co-workers, they can be used as a social gathering for friends and they can definitely entertain. Rarely do they ask us to think deep thoughts. But some believe that the medium can and is being harnessed for this. That games are helping us understand each other and to realize our social and environmental impact on the world.

However, these are the games that don’t get press. Most of the time they are hustled off to dark corners of the internet, where only the intrepid and determined may find them. After all, making the player feel guilty about the genocide in Darfur isn’t going to boost sales. But one website,, is bringing these thought provoking and challenging games back to the forefront.

According to their mission statement, Games For Change, “…provides support, visibility and shared resources to individuals and organizations using digital games for social change. We provide special assistance to foundations and non-profits entering the field. Today, G4C acts as a national hub to help organizations network and develop videogame projects beyond their traditional expertise. Our members represent hundreds of organizations and include partners in the games industry, academia, nonprofits, local and state governments, foundations, the UN and artists.” In other words, they support being both entertaining and thought provoking. To prove that the two are not only not mutually exclusive but can be a powerful tool when used together.

At their website, they have featured games divided up into several categories. These include Human Rights, Economics, Public Policy, Public Health, Poverty, Environment, Global Conflict, News and Politics. Currently the site houses nearly sixty different games, many of which overlap into at least two of these categories. New games can be recommended through the website as well. The games range from the genocide in Darfur to a simulation of being homeless in America. From the environmental impact of whaling to trying to rule a nation based on different political policies. And everything in between.

In their own way, these games give the player a more visceral experience than video or film. Pictures and news reports have a way of letting the viewer disengage from the experience; to say, “That could never happen to me.” These games make these things happen to you. An example; in playing the game Third World Farmer my job seemed simple enough. Raise enough crops and animals to support my family and send my kids to school. Too bad for me the economy fluctuated so badly from year to year that I couldn’t gauge which crops to grow. One year a band of rebels came through and killed my son, which not only was devastating on a personal level, but also left me short two hands when harvest came. I spent a lot of time debating whether to send my children to school or keep them home to help on the farm. They couldn’t do both since the school was half a day’s walk away. In a very real way, Third World Farmer drove home how many difficult decisions people in these countries make every day.

And while most of the games available are still being made by non-profit groups and university students, the hope is that one day they will break into the mainstream. Even now, Games For Change is working with Microsoft to challenge developers to bring these games, or those in the same vein, to Xbox Live. Who knows, one day the world might be a better place because someone spent eight hours playing Karma Tycoon.


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