What Good Can Games Do? Games For Good

By John Walker on June 20th, 2013 at 12:00 pm.

James “Extra Credits” Portnow wants to change the conversation. Recognising that we spend too much time defending games as they are, and not enough investigating how gaming can be explored as a space for actively doing good, his Games For Good is looking to make a difference in the next year. Working alongside the Global Game Jam people, as well as attempting to forge links between funding bodies and developers, GFG looks like a concerted effort to move things forward. They’re fundraising, obviously, but awareness raising too.

The ultimate goal seems to be to help more socially conscious games get made. And more importantly, good ones. Portnow has said that he will dedicate the next year to this project, putting aside all other projects except for Extra Credits, in order to make this happen. To fund this, the project is after $50,000, of which it’s already made more than half.

I’m not sure if James Portnow’s gentle voice is because he’s hypnotising me into giving his project money, or because a baby was asleep in the next room, but either way his calming, emphatic speech is convicting. I’m especially pleased to see the focus on reaching out to politicians to create relationships, rather than for the development industry to continue purely antagonistically with the political world. The idea that government representatives might know to whom to direct their questions in future sounds extremely important, and hopefully will allow communication to occur before things become a battle.

We’re told that the plans for the Global Game Jam are already well under way, so that’s something to look toward with interested eyebrows. However, I’m even more interested to track the progress of linking funding organisations to developers. The money is out there, and it would be fantastic to see it reach the real talent who could use it.

Here’s more info:

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48 Comments »

  1. GameCat says:

    Meanwhile on E3:

    Shooting, shooter, guns, dogs, shooting, shooting, death, soldiers, war, shooting, bows, shooter, war, spears, shooting, shooter, modern shooter, cars, more guns, warfare, death, shooting, soldiers, war.

    We need more games that are telling more personal stories.

    • Cinek says:

      You do realize that every campagin from these “shooting, shooter, guns, dogs, shooting” is made under the excuse of a “personal story” ?

      Games are suffering the same issue as film industry does – lack of any good scenarios. Sometimes something decent pops (mostly on PCs) but that’s all what it is – an exception.

      I’d prefer if they’d make games that are fun, deep, and challenging instead of breaking the sweat over “stories”.

      • GameCat says:

        My post wasn’t 100% serious.
        I’m aware that all these games are big blockbusters, but even indie games “suffer” from beign mostly next iteration of hero fighting with demons/zombies/bad guys/zombies/soldiers/animals/zombies using some weapons. SOME games should go away from that and I’m afraid that these games are very rare.

        “More personal stories” is parody of Peter Molyneux.

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          • SD says:

            Ah, but was Rebecca’s story personal? Your shameless promotion and detached (nearly robotic) grammar belies a self-centered view. Are you sure you’re not simply hungering to tell a story of your own?

            Also, Range Rovers aren’t what they used to be, I’m afraid.

      • Focksbot says:

        “Games are suffering the same issue as film industry does – lack of any good scenarios.”

        I don’t think you get very far blaming ‘games’ in general. As the video above points out, there are already plenty of games that solve problems. At least part of the problem is how we react to games and talk about them, and the ones we choose to focus on. That’s why the key phrase in the first sentence of the post is ‘change the conversation’.

        For example, I think we collectively have an over-obsessions with new shit, and the next big thing we’re going to play. There’s not enough creative-critical engagement with what’s already out there. Generally, in the arts, when something is worthwhile, people prove it by continuing to find new things to discuss about it. English lit students/academics don’t sit around waiting for Shakespeare to release his much-delayed Hamlet 2; they keep talking about Hamlet.

        Gaming might be young but it now has 40 years of constant innovation and experimentation. There’s an abundance of stuff to talk and write about besides which massive corporation is hurting the poor ‘consumers’ right at the moment, or how badly they’re going to screw up the new Thief.

        All I’m saying is – like any art that ultimately becomes recognised as enriching our lives, the production/creation is only half of it. The culture of conversation and exploration that springs up around it is the other half.

        • Kefren says:

          I’d love to see more articles about older games: C64, Amiga, PC. I still play them, still love to read about them. When I discovered Retro Games I was amazed that it had come to be.

        • MichaelPalin says:

          Your comment reminds me a lot about a youtube channel called MrBtongue. Basically, gaming needs more academics, people who do not just talk about what’s new, but about the evolution, the art, the authors, the periods, etc. It is time indeed for people to start treating gaming like every other medium, dare I say, artistic medium.

      • noizy says:

        I don’t know if you have memories of the early days of shooters (Wolfensten, Doom, Quake)? There was very little story to speak off. The overarching goals for clearing up a level was “get the red key to open the red door” then “get the blue key to open the blue door”; very barebone mechanics. Then we got the likes of Half Life that started introducing a plot into the game, so rather than chasing keys you chased story-driven, goal orientated triggers that acted as keys to progress into the game, but the plot resonated with our human sensibilities more. Those games were more enjoyable and people started writing better plots for shooters because they were more engaging. It’s not some insidious cover up to soften up tragic violence. Shooting is just a really good game mechanics in a 3D game; that’s just the bottom line. If people really were psychopathic, they wouldn’t give two shits about the plot. Any argument that the plot is there to cover up the violence doesn’t hold water.

        • GameCat says:

          Yeah, shooting makes great mechanics – it’s engaging, have some variety, can be complex (like using different ammo type) especially when you mix it a little with stealth, it leaves room for some creative freedom which for example clicking through dialogue trees (major RPG games mechanics) doesn’t have.

          The problem is – we need more mechanics like this which doesn’t involve killing, shooting, beating etc.
          Think of Hotline Miami (I love this game) fast paced gameplay without all that violence and killing.
          Is it possible? Yes, Monaco could be an example or Waking Mars, even better, because it makes exactly opposite thing (creating new forms of life) than Hotline Miami as a core gameplay. Is it hard to came up with such idea? As hell.

        • Mman says:

          Paring those early shooters down to “finding keycards” and glossing over the specifics of doing that actually gets into my biggest issues with how most modern shooters now handle things; those older shooters at least generally have things like puzzles, traps, environmental hazards and actual proper mechanical rewards for exploration that make forging into new territory easier. For a while the more story-based games had those things as well (despite the increased story focus inherently limiting them in some ways), but somewhere around when Modern Warfare came out the average FPS decided to remove all that until almost literally nothing but the shooting was left, and now even that is heavily simplified (with little penalty for getting hurt, weapon limits that lower your choices, no resource management, less mobility and no enemy variety beyond “man with gun”). There are certainly some exceptions but it’s got to the point that many modern shooters are borderline-objectively more basic in the range of actions you perform than those that came out even just a few years ago.

          Shooting is a good mechanic, but, as far as standard FPS go, fuck turning shooting into the ONLY mechanic.

          • GameCat says:

            I was thinking of shooters like Stalker, Bioshock, System Shock, HL2 or even Serious Sam rather than CoD.

          • Mman says:

            I was mainly posting to the person who was talking about the progression of FPS, but those are the exact kinds of games I’m thinking of as far as generally more modern FPS that still have plenty of variety in your interactions with the world, and that have mostly disappeared in recent years or gone further in the pure FPS direction (in Bioshock’s case) with occasional exceptions.

    • phandango says:

      I guess said games were the ones with the biggest budgets… there were plenty of other genres shown, just they can’t really create the same level of interest as shoot, dog, television war (sorry wrong meeting..)

  2. Skeletor68 says:

    I love Extra Credits.

  3. BobbyDylan says:

    I cant hear any of James’ video.

    • RaveTurned says:

      I’m listening using headphones – it seems to be normal volume in my left ear, almost inaudible in my right. Thought it was just the headphones packing up.

  4. amateurviking says:

    I think that’s his natural timbre. Mind you I’ve only ever heard him speak before on the Extra Credits episode about game addiction which was obviously a fairly emotional experience for him (he did a piece to camera rather than the normal his-words-voiced-by-Dan-Floyd animated episodes).

    Incidentally well worth a dig through the Extra Credits archive. It’s consistently good, interesting stuff.

    Edit: a link to spare your keyboard:

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/patv/show/extra-credits

  5. Jackablade says:

    He’s so dreamy. I feel like I want to paste his poster on my bedroom ceiling so I can lie on my bed and gaze into his eyes.

  6. Jams O'Donnell says:

    What an adorable logo/illustration.

  7. zachforrest says:

    i’ve been trying to get my department to look at games as a way to discuss international development since i started. This is going in my ever expanding evidence pile

  8. kwyjibo says:

    We need to stop playing defense and start playing offense.

    We should be celebrating Hotline Miami, not pretending it doesn’t exist every time something negative comes up.

    Gaming isn’t a subculture any more, it’s the culture, and should start acting like it.

  9. lowprices says:

    I thought I was taking a break from crowdfunding stuff. Turns out I was wrong. Albeit admittedly only to the tune of a fiver. Primarily just because I love the sound of his voice.

  10. kwyjibo says:

    Crowdfunding is cool and all, but for a project like this – I’d be more comfortable donating if it was an actual registered charity.

    There really should be something in the campaign about whether they intend on registering, at least in the stretch goals or something. Is it going to be a registered lobbyist?

  11. Sam says:

    I wish it were a little more clear what exactly the fundraising is going towards.

    Things like the $50 reward worries me:
    “A list of all the grant organizations James finds that are looking to give out these sort of grants, complete with contact info for who to approach (if he can include it) and a guide on how to make your pitch.”
    Doesn’t the value of that research lie in it being released publicly? Sending off $50 for a list of “make the government pay you for making games!” sounds an awful lot like a shady internet operation.

    More generally, it seems to be about funding him to go off and recommend talking to “the right people” to those in power. It would be great to have a little detail on how he selects these right people, beyond those who are his buddies and, like, totally said some smart things about games that one time.

    The other use for funds appears to be a game jam. But aren’t they usually run on a virtually zero budget? For instance the Pulse Pounding Heart Stopping Dating Sim Jam was run entirely on Tumblr and Twitter, which I believe cost the organisers and participants a total of nothing. The infrastructure around Ludum Dare has grown into needing some funding, but I think it’s safe to say that’s an unusually large jam. Game jams that exist in physical spaces do of course need more significant funding, but they also by nature exclude anyone not living in a relatively tiny area of the world.

    Forgive my pustulant cynicism. I’m working on something that would be considered a game for good (it’s not public yet), but don’t really see stuff in this fundraiser that would help me. But I’m not in the US, so maybe I’m just the wrong audience. Although from a superficial look over the backers, the audience seems to be young middle class white men who want their hobby to not be looked down upon quite so much. Do excuse me, another pustule just popped up.

    • Runs With Foxes says:

      Portnow seems like a total snake oil salesman. Look into his history a bit and you’ll spot his utter lack of qualifications for anything. I wouldn’t risk a cent on him.

      • hench says:

        Indeed. It’s always a laugh whenever they mention his industry “experience” in the show when all he has worked on has been a cancelled CoD title and some iPhone games.

      • Luigi_The_Better_Brother says:

        I took you advise and did a little research.

        i found a guy whose had a wide range of experience from games that have been both successful to flops and is a lauded game design educator, and a highly regarded games advocate. but no im sure your hate and libel are completely justified =D

        • Homu Homu says:

          What the hell is a “game design educator” or a “games advocate?”

          • jrodman says:

            Come on now. Just because you haven’t seen these sequences of words used before doesn’t mean you can’t figure them out.

  12. Fred S. says:

    Reaching out to politicians? Only if you have money in your hand. Don’t expect anything to come of that otherwise, and then only if there’s power to be grabbed, it won’t be power that *YOU* can grab. Of course the development world is antagonistic to the political world. They’re all about power in the real world, and games are about an escape from the real world. Even the most progressive take on social issues is just another oversimplified abstract mechanic in a gaming context. The player is rewarded for manipulating that mechanic, not for solving real world problems.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      At the very least, this.. initiative might end up clearing away some of the ignorance present within politics. Besides, better to try and fail than never to try at all, I say.

  13. Wulfram says:

    What does “anti-gaming” legislation mean exactly?

    I also feel the message is kind of confused. Is this really about gaming as a whole, or just about the more “worthy” ones? The stronger and more concrete stuff seems to be about the latter, but feels like it’s being fogged by other stuff.

    And I wonder if people who might be supportive of the games that it’s promoting might find what seems like a dismissive attitude towards criticism of violent games off-putting.

  14. Liudeius says:

    What?
    What happened to that excess money they had from donations after their artist needed arm surgery?
    They pretty much said they had the exact same goal for that money, but I’ve not heard anything about it for a year or more.

    • Luigi_The_Better_Brother says:

      two very different projects. that money is for more of an indie help fund. but last i heard they had a few games vetted and given the thumbs up for development. but im guessing it isnt any of your money or oyu would have been keeping up with it yourself =D

      • Liudeius says:

        Last I heard was a year ago, and I heard the same “some games have been looked at,” so I’m guessing there hasn’t been an update since.

        However how are these different? One is for good games, the other is for good games with a positive societal impact. That’s not much of a difference, they could easily intersect.

  15. rustybroomhandle says:

    If they want change, they can start by abandoning Penny Arcade.

  16. Unrepentant says:

    I personally can’t stand Extra Credits. It all seems to be a lot of talking about problems we are all aware of, then either telling us what “we as gamers” should do like some sort of self proclaimed prophet as to the direction games should go, or the ever helpful (and far too frequent) “I don’t really know how to tackle this problem”. Add in the fact that Mr. Portnow himself has very little experience actually working in the industry, the nails-on-chalkboard voice of the narrator, the appeals to emotion weaved into their arguments, their frequent misunderstanding of areas of gaming not directly related to James’ area of expertise (academic analysis), and the ever present image macros and I am completely put off. It’s all well and good to be idealistic and tell people that there is a road map to better gaming, but the actual logistics of the journey are far more important than the rudimentary first draft.

  17. SuicideKing says:

    Haha, the first computer game i ever played was some Sesame Street game on my neighbour’s PC, back in ’95.

  18. 0positivo says:

    It’s kind of a shame, really, that RPS hasn’t talked about the Games for Change festival that’s been going on these past days. Would have sparked some interesting discussions

  19. Mihkel says:

    lol “battle”

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