Games For Change

A contribution to the Ashoka Peace Blog at peace.ashoka.org

The only video game I’ve ever been good at was Nintendo Super Mario Brothers. When it comes to jumping up and down on mushrooms and rescuing beautiful princesses, I’m there. But give me a gun or a weapon and tell me to win a war, now you’ve lost me. Ironically, even Mario Brothers is based on killing.

The USC Society and Business Lab, where I work as an intern, recently hosted Alan Gershenfeld, founder of E-Line Media, a social games publishing company, and member of the Board of Directors for Games of Change. Before listening to Alan, I had no idea video games could change the world.

This morning, I planted a farm, built a shed and a barn, bought livestock, paid for a school and a road, and worked to sustain my family of four.

I also sent a Haitian family to work, to school, to volunteer, and took care of them when they got sick.

I negotiated with the Israeli Prime Minister to remove the wall dividing Jerusalem from Palestine, who politely told me I would need to fight terror before the wall could be removed.

Lastly, I started a homeless shelter in Los Angeles, thanks to a local grant.

Games for Change is a non-profit that promotes, quite simply, video games to change the world. These games span the areas of human rights, economics, public health, poverty, global conflict, the environment, and politics.

They make a foreign world relevant to children (and adults!) restricted by the challenges of their own lives and the system they are born into. And they are fun.

They are also quite difficult.

On 3rd World Farmer, crop season after crop season was hit with challenges. All of my barns and sheds burned down in a fire. My cattle were wiped out by a terrible virus. My peanut crop was destroyed, and the economy fell through the cracks, leaving me with barely enough money to afford a meager corn crop.

On Ayiti: The Cost of Life, my Haitian children got sick, couldn’t pay for school, and were forced to work in a factory to afford food. I could never afford to educate the parents well enough to get jobs that could sustain the family. Happiness, health, and education levels were always low.

I gave up on Peacemaker, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and negotiation game, after only 10 minutes. Enough said.

On Karma Tycoon, I could never get enough funding to sustain my non-profit homeless shelter, expand it, and serve the number of clients I needed to serve, to get enough karma.

These games presented me with issues I might never think about, had I not stumbled upon this game. After all, Super Mario never had to manage a farm or feed a family.

Imagine if parents encouraged their children to play video games. Imagine if they were incorporated into school curriculums. Perhaps games can lead to a vast understanding of the world around us, and the challenges we face in mending the Earth’s deepest wounds.

To read more about Games for Change, and all of the game-changing fun they offer, go to http://gamesforchange.org/.

To learn more about the games I played:

Karma Tycoon: http://www.karmatycoon.com/

3rd World Farmer: http://www.3rdworldfarmer.com/

Peacemaker: http://www.peacemakergame.com/

Ayiti: The Cost of Life: http://costoflife.ning.com/

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