By Games for Change
Video games have proven to be extremely impactful media, both in sheer scale, and in the breadth of topics they address — from politics, to health, to cultural preservation and beyond. In 2014, the games industry generated $72 billion revenue globally and in the U.S. alone, two-thirds of the population plays video games.
More organizations, foundations and nonprofits are looking into games as a new form of communication, as players interact directly with the subject matter, digitally walk in the shoes of others, and take away new viewpoints or approaches that they can then apply to their own lives. The Games for Change Festival, an annual 800-person event in New York City that highlights the positive power of games, aims to showcase the very best of games for social impact in its annual awards ceremony.
Narrowed down from a field of 150 submissions by experts in games, social change, tech, and media, these three games have been nominated for the Most Significant Impact category of the Games for Change Awards for the incredible ways they have enriched players’ lives.
Read about their impact below, and meet developers and leaders of projects like these at the Games for Change Festival. Media Impact Funders members receive a special discount of 10% off passes with the code ’10mif.’
Developer: GainPlay Studio, The PlayNice Institute
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Navigate a haunted environment and learn to overcome anxiety in this 3D game that uses the mind as a game controller through a neurofeedback headset. MindLight was developed based on research into the causal mechanisms and evidence-based clinical techniques associated with anxiety and its reduction. Anxiety disorders are the most frequently diagnosed mental health problem in youth, affecting up to 18% of children and adolescents and costing Americans more than $42 billion per year.
MindLight’s environment responds to how players allocate their attention and the extent to which they are relaxing in the face of threat. The more relaxed the player becomes, the brighter their “mindlight” shines, which is the only way they can see in a dark haunted house. When players are anxious, the light dims and must regain their calm to see again.
The developers report promising results from MindLight’s large-scale randomized controlled trial: Children who play the game decrease in their anxiety levels at a magnitude comparable to the most advanced cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches, in half the time. Follow-up data collection has also revealed that these improvements last several months after children have stopped playing MindLight, suggesting that kids are transferring the skills they learned in the game into their everyday emotional lives.
Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)
Developer: E-Line Media
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac
This atmospheric puzzle-platformer was created in collaboration with the Iñupiat, an Alaska Native people, and the nonprofit Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s Upper One Games. Nearly 40 Alaska Native elders, storytellers, and community members contributed to the game, which shares, celebrates, and extends Iñupiat culture through engaging cooperative gameplay.
Play as a young Iñupiat girl and an arctic fox as they set out to find the source of the eternal blizzard that threatens their village’s survival. 24 high-quality mini-documentary clips about Native Alaskan life and the challenges faced in preserving ancient culture in modern times are unlocked as the player progresses through the game. These clips were embraced positively by players and game critics alike, with PC Gamer writing, ““Unlocking” is too bleak and unfeeling a word, though — what you’re doing is reclaiming, rescuing the fragments of a way of life that’s melting away into the ocean, in order to shore up the sense of fellowship that’s boldly insisted upon by the game’s title. …. Never Alone is a wonderful living record.”
Never Alone’s impact is less quantifiable, but that does not mean it is any less visible or pervasive — players have had powerful reactions to the game. One reviewer recounted how it helped him reconcile with his frustrations of his fading American Indian heritage. Never Alone has also received extensive coverage in mass media (New Yorker, Guardian, USA Today, NPR) and attracted new players who are interested in the story behind the game and the culture it represents.
Developer: 3C Institute
Zoo U, the first and only evidence-based game that assesses and builds social emotional learning (SEL) skills, aims to combat critical social problems like bullying and scale providing SEL to children who often don’t have access to it, particularly within rural and low income communities.
71% of children report bullying is an ongoing problem at school, and according to the games developers, decades of research underscore the insidious, damaging influence of negative peer interactions for children’s social, emotional, and mental health, which can put them at risk for serious consequences in adolescence and adulthood.
Currently, effective SEL strategies are implemented by trained providers via in-person settings, which presents significant cost, time, and logistical barriers to treatment. An online game gives the 3C Institute the opportunity to bring effective SEL strategies to children on a much larger scale. Through adaptive, personalized gameplay, children navigate social situations in a virtual world and learn SEL for the real world, including communication, cooperation, and empathy.
Randomized clinical trials have demonstrated Zoo U’s ability to positively impact children’s social emotional health.
Explore more games at Games for Change.