Social Media & Social Change: Games & Immersive Worlds


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Presentation on the role of games & immersive worlds as vehicles for social change. Presented to Shannon Mattern's Understanding Media Studies class at the New School on 3 May 2011.

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  • This probably looks familiar – can someone tell me what it is? it’s Farmville, a social game played mainly within Facebook - now played by over 80 million peopleSource: source:
  • there are a couple of myths that exist about gamers…Like gamers are young & they wouldn’t be interested – well…Average gamer is 35 yrs oldAnd the population is not as skewed as u’d think, 40% of all players are women25% of game players are over the age of 50Source: “2009 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry.” Entertainment Software Association (ESA). source:
  • Games have been pervading mainstream culture in other forms as well -- for ex, movies that arebased upon or are related to video gamesTron: Legacy – despite mixed reviews, ranked #1 in box office opening wkendSource: source:
  • Machinima (machine+cinema) is filmmaking within a real-time, 3D virtual environment, often usingvideogame technologies.convergence of filmmaking, animation and game development. By combining the techniques of filmmaking, animation production and the technology of real-time 3D game engines, Machinima makes for a very cost- and time-efficient way to produce films, with a large amount of creative control.This screenshot is from This Spartan Life, a talk show in the Halo game spaceImage source: by permission of Chris Burke, This Spartan Life
  • More examples of the extension of game culture:8-bit music or chiptunes = music made using gameboys as sequencers and synthesizers,– ex: glomag, bubblyfish, bitshifter source: by permission of Chris Burke and Haeyoung Kim
  • Genre of games called social issues or serious games = Games for Change == gamers as activists
  • Over 1 million — The amount of times Ayitiwas played in the first year of its release - a video game about poverty in Haiti. Ayiti: The Cost of Life is a game that challenges its players to manage a rural family of five in Haiti over four years and keep them healthy, get them educated, and help them survive. Develop in a unique partnership between youth in an after school program and a professional game developer, the game has been played over a half million times since its launch six months ago and has proven to be a hit as both an engaging game and as a tool for education.CostofLife.orgImage source:
  • Navigate a nanobot through a 3D environment of blood vessels and connective tissue in an attempt to save an ailing patient by retraining her non-functional immune cells
  • Darfur Is Dying: mtvU's game for change about the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.
  • iCivics: web-based education project designed to teach students civics and inspire them to be active participants in U.S. democracy. Founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor
  • Geocaching, geolocative games – turn our larger, urban environment into a gameGeocaching is an outdoor activity in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", anywhere in the world. “high-tech hide and seek”How many people checked-in to this venue in Foursquare today?Foursquare: location-based social networking in a game structure. Users "check-in" and are awarded points and sometimes "badges” and “mayorships”Image sources:Geocaching: screenshot by Josephine Dorado
  • Twelve hours after the earthquake struck Japan on Friday, March 11th, 2011, Zynga launched in-game initiatives that made donations possible across a number of our most popular games, including Farmville.Zynga asked its FarmVille players to pitch in and help by making donations in the form of purchasing a special permit to grow an exclusive Daikon crop. 100% of all the went to Japan’s Save the Children Earthquake Emergency Fund. Players raised over $1.5 million in just five days.
  • Nicole Lazzaro’s research on why we play games – the four keys to fun
  • Lots of resources in this slide deck & associated podcast:Info & audio recording:
  • Nonprofit commons: community of nonprofits in the virtual world Second Life- cooperative learning environment for nonprofits to explore & learn about using virtual world space to foster outreach, education, fundraising, etc. members of Nonprofit Commons meet each Friday at 8:30 PST/SLT & there are usually 70-100 nonprofits that are present each week (large, active community)Image source: Josephine Dorado,
  • CONSENT! is a game in Second Life produced with Global Kids Youth leaders in the Global Kids Playing 4 Keeps program that offers a simulation of life as an African-male prisoner confronting five decades of medical racism.
  • Raised $57,706,236 Linden dollars (exchange rate: $259 L$ to $1 USD) = $222,804 USD raised for American Cancer Society in 2010Image source:
  • There’s been research done on WoW communities – how tight the offline social connection is and the types of collaborations formed in-game thru otherplayers in your guild that become friends (mention types of collaboration and progression of connection, from strangers in the fight to structured collaborations to random acts of fun)Source: Nardi, Bonnie and Justin Harris. “Strangers and Friends: Collaborative Play in World of Warcraft.” Proceedings of the 2006 20th anniversary conference on Computer supported cooperative work, University of California, Irvine, 2006.
  • There’s been research done on WoW communities – how tight the offline social connection is and the types of collaborations formed in-game thru otherplayers in your guild that become friends (mention types of collaboration and progression of connection, from strangers in the fight to structured collaborations to random acts of fun)Source: Nardi, Bonnie and Justin Harris. “Strangers and Friends: Collaborative Play in World of Warcraft.” Proceedings of the 2006 20th anniversary conference on Computer supported cooperative work, University of California, Irvine, 2006.
  • Kidz Connect – a nonprofit program that connects students in different countries through creative collaboration and theatrical performance in virtual worlds
  • In 2003-4 I was lucky enough to have gotten a Fulbright scholarship that took me to Amsterdam. It was a watershed year, being able to immerse myself in what I loved to do and to learn about another culture in an awesome city.
  • the importance of cultural awareness – integrating oneself into the fabric of that culture.
  • What I gained most from this time period was not just knowledge and understanding but inspiration as well – I made new friends and collaboration partners, and to this day we’re still close and collaborate together.
  • Knowledge/awarenessUnderstanding of connectednessPowerful steps toward building peace
  • Cultural exchange is at the heart of international conflict resolution, yet the experience of cultural exchange through traveling is not accessible for many youth. As migration flows fluctuate and connectivity increases, the meaning of community is fluid, and acknowledging our differences and sameness is key to cultural understanding. Cross-cultural interplay is not a luxury – it is a necessity, and creating the frameworks for this is an essential step.Image source:
  • Kidz Connect is a virtual cultural exchange, connecting teens in diverse global communities through theatrical performance and collaborative creation in virtual worlds such as Second Life and OpenSim. In the virtual world, they craft a 3D sculptural representation of their shared spaces which reflects the real life cities in which they live.In this collaboratively created space, students creatively explore their own histories, and through innovative approaches to identity exploration, such as avatar role-playing and other theater-based activities, students engage in cross-cultural learning and interaction, playing the game of constructing who they are and making a mixed reality performance based on their interactions.In our pilot program, participants connected and created with other students in New York and Amsterdam via video streaming and in Second Life, the online virtual world.This is the first meeting in which the New York and Amsterdam students met each other inside Second Life. In this shot, you can see them watching the video stream from NY which is being broadcast into our virtual performance space inside Second Life.
  • Mixed reality space: merging of ‘real’ and virtual worlds. ‘Real’ life combined with virtual world interactions. Students collaborate in the virtual world space, while being able to see each other in a live video stream.In this shot, live video stream in skype and interactions in virtual world Metaplace (students in NY and Amsterdan created a virtual street fair together). In next slide, live video stream embedded inside Second Life, while students rehearse with avatars.
  • Screenshot of students in New York and Amsterdam, rehearsing together. We used Playback Theatre, an original form of improvisational theatre in which audience or group members tell stories from their lives and watch them enacted on the spot. The Playback method translated into mixed reality space well: students as avatars told the story and students in the live video stream enacted them in response.
  • Optimizing the platform of the virtual world to leverage things like avatar customization for identity explorationStudents encouraged to explore different identities through avatar roleplaying: make an avatar that looks like yourself, that reflects who you aremake an avatar that looks nothing like yourself (is this person a different shape, color, gender?)
  • Screenshot of a graffiti image from student’s neighborhood in Amsterdam, applied as a texture to a house inside Second Life
  • Inclusion: students in New York built this ball & playing field – at first built to play American football, but when students were told about difference between American football and European football (i.e., “soccer”), they changed the ball to be more inclusive.
  • Screenshot from Macondo Dance Connect whichinvolved bringing kids together from the Macondo refugee community using dance and storytelling in the virtual world Second Life. Objective was to re-connect youth from the refugee community to their native cultures thru exploration of dance from their original cultures and avatar roleplaying, allowing them to creatively explore their own history and identity.
  • When people hear devastating news, they often want to reach out and help, but are not sure how. You get a flurry of activity across the interwebz – from ppl trying to figure out what to do and others creating their own initiatives – it all boils down to answering one question, What can I do?
  • Enter Fractor: a couple friends and I had an idea to match news with social actions, so that each news story is paired with nonprofit needs & the moment you’re inspired by the news, you can immediately do something about it. We got a MacArthur Foundation award to realize this project and there is now an open source prototype available (
  • And of course, once you have that, you have to consider translating it to a mobile platform…But what if you were to take it one step further – not to just settle for making a direct translation to mobile, but wanting it to be persistently engaging and FUN – making it a game…
  • From this, the idea for reACTor was born: a mobile game that allows users to “play the news” Players shown the news 10,000 feet around them (or other distance – like the area around your neighborhood)It’s presented as a map visualization or as a list. So for ex, if the news story is abt home loss, then the corresponding action might be…volunteer at the homeless outreach center…
  • You can see what’s going on around you and you can see what you can do about it.By connecting players to real world actions, the virtual platform has a real-world effect.
  • Everyone enjoys a little competition, so let’s bring the game oncompete against friends and ‘challenge’ them to act on the news – to reACTor matchesby doing specific acts and accepting challenges, players accrue points and rewards-------Points for pledging to do an actionBadges for doing an actionPoint to badge ratio“Ambassadorships”
  • To play the news or not to play the news…The question goes back to “What can I do?”Here’s what’s around me and here’s what I can do. It’s that simple. And if you can have fun by playing a game while doing it, then I’d pose the question “What are you waiting for?”
  • 1700’s: Curator of Experiments to the Royal Society had salonsPart research, part ice breaker, part theater “electrical machine,” essentially an evacuated glass globe which was turned on an axle and to which friction (a hand, a cloth, a piece of fur) was applied to produce a static electrical charge” – improved device, added mercury, produced a glow – age of candles – source of artificial lightSensational, entertainment – later, Franklin, Volta, Faraday – foundation for electricity – this took decades of toolbuilding, experimentation Playing is essential to understanding what the technology is and where it will goBuilding blocks: inspiration, incubation, play, refinement – games (thinking about our larger world as a game that we can build on) is a part of that process
  • 500 million gameplayers in the world3 billion hrs spent each week playing games. Get ½ of us to spend an hr/day playing games to solve world probsEx WoW – 11 million players(?), playing x hrs= serious hive mind, collaborative resourceCollaborative, productive, virtual activity translates into real-world effect.“Make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online games…” Jane McGonigal<source:>
  • Social Media & Social Change: Games & Immersive Worlds

    1. 1. Social Media & Social Change<br />Games & Immersive Worlds<br />Josephine Dorado Understanding Media Studies, 2 May, Twitter: @funksoup<br />
    2. 2.
    3. 3. Game culture<br />(Mis)perception #1: Gamers are youngAverage gamer is 35 yrs old & 25% of game players are over the age of 50<br />(Mis)perception #2: Gamers are mostly males40% of all players are women<br />
    4. 4.
    5. 5. Machinima<br />
    6. 6. 8-bit musicchiptunes<br />
    7. 7. Social issues games / Serious games<br /><br />
    8. 8.<br />
    9. 9. Immune Attack<br /><br />
    10. 10.<br />
    11. 11.<br />
    12. 12. Geocaching<br />Foursquare<br />
    13. 13.
    14. 14. Virtual goods  Real-world relief<br />Players raised over $1.5 million in just five days<br />
    15. 15.<br />
    16. 16. #GamesFTW<br />Info & audio recording:<br />Slides:<br />
    17. 17. Nonprofit Commons<br /><br />
    18. 18. Consent!<br />
    19. 19. Second Life Relay for Life<br /><br />Raised $222,804 for American Cancer Society last year<br />
    20. 20. WoW: online => offline collaboration<br />
    21. 21. WoW: online => offline collaboration<br />Strangers in the fight<br />Structured collaborations with friends & strangers<br /> Parties, raids, friends list; guilds, battlegrounds, duels and trades<br />Random acts of fun<br />
    22. 22.
    23. 23. International exchange<br />
    24. 24. Cultural awareness<br />
    25. 25. Inspiration<br />
    26. 26. Knowledge<br />Tolerance<br />Curiosity<br />
    27. 27. Not everybody can go abroad<br />Problem<br />
    28. 28. Creative collaboration<br />Virtual cultural exchange<br /><ul><li>Virtual worlds</li></li></ul><li>Opening the window<br />
    29. 29. Mixed reality<br />
    30. 30.
    31. 31. Exploring identity<br />
    32. 32. Exploring communities<br />
    33. 33. Differences…<br />and sameness<br />
    34. 34.
    35. 35.
    36. 36. What can I do?<br />
    37. 37. Fractor: news+actions<br />
    38. 38. Mashup: (news+actions)*game<br />
    39. 39. reACTor: playing the news<br />
    40. 40. Neighborhood news inspires action<br />
    41. 41. Bring the game on<br />
    42. 42. To play the news…<br />The question goes back to “What can I do?”<br />Here’s what’s around me and here’s what I can do.<br />And if you can have fun while doing it, then the question is “What are you waiting for?”<br />
    43. 43. Inspiration<br />Incubation<br />Play<br />Refinement<br />
    44. 44. Making each of us superheroes<br />500 million global gamers<br />3 billion hours are spent each week playing games<br />“Make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online games…” Jane McGonigal<br />
    45. 45. Social Media & Social Change<br />Games & Immersive Worlds<br />Josephine Dorado Understanding Media Studies, 2 May, Twitter: @funksoup<br />