Social causes and media have a long history, and nonprofits have become well acquainted with the use of media to further their causes. Beyond typical public relations, nonprofits have increasingly turned to documentaries to help tell their story and get the issues they care about out into the public dialogue.
But at the Making Your Media Matter conference last week, hosted by the Center for Social Media, it became clear that filmmakers and activists alike are turning to more than just the documentary.
Games for Social Change
The conference started off with a great session about using games to help affect change. Although its not exactly new, its becoming a more accepted tool for advocacy and education.
One great example was demonstrated by panelist Dennis Pamielri from ITVS (Independent Television Service). In 2007 ITVS launched an interactive online game called World Without Oil. The purpose of the game was to demonstrate our dependence on oil and simulate what life would be like if that oil were to run out.
The set up for the game was simple – for 32 weeks, the makers “created” an oil crisis. Players were asked to contribute original online stories about how their lives would be affected if this oil shock were actually happening. Contributions could be poems, images, stories, videos, podcast, even cartoons- anything that showed how life would change. Each week, creators posted an update complete with gas prices and story prompts. Week 1, for example, started with regular unleaded gasoline st $4.12 per gallon. After a brief summary of the week’s events, users are asked, “How would $4 gas affect your finances?”
Each week new prompts were posted, and each week players from around the country submitted thousands of creative contributions. It was a perfect example of some of the buzzwords we hear these days – crowd sourcing, collective creativity, collective intelligence.
But what was REALLY interesting was the comments coming in to the producers telling how much the game had changed the way players were living their lives. Players may have been posting imaginary scenarios online, but offline they were making real changes. Some started riding their bikes to work, some traded in their gas-guzzlers for hybrids. Over and over again producers heard about the true impact of the game.
Isn’t that why nonprofits use media? To make an impact? To change lives?
Susan Seggerman from Games 4 Change said this is becoming the norm, not the exception. Games are unique in that they fully engage the user. Players are able to make “safe” decisions – if they make the wrong choice, they can try again. Games allow individuals to see cause and effect more clearly- something that is difficult in the linear storytelling of film. And games put the user into the situation – they aren’t just watching it, they are living it- long after “game over.”