This from Reena Jana, who reports on gaming culture, virtual culture and culture in general for our Innovation & Design site and IN magazine:
“Last year, we reported on the annual Games for Change Festival held at Parsons School of Design here in New York – this year’s event takes place from June 11-12 — which showcases the budding genre of activist-themed video games that’s now starting to blossom. The festival is attended by game-design students, gamers, and game developers alike. And in our analysis of last year’s festival, we concluded that more corporations could raise their public profiles as socially conscious companies by sponsoring video games intended to mobilize young people to help save the environment or fight genocide.
This year, corporate support for the growing “games for change” movement is starting to bloom. Two of the world’s most-recognized brands, Microsoft and Starbucks, are present at the event. Significant is Microsoft’s announcement of its new involvement with the organizers of the Games for Change Festival. Last year, Microsoft funded an activist game on display at the event, called Four Years in Haiti, about poverty-stricken children in the Caribbean country and their struggles to find the resources to go to school. On June 11, at the opening of this year’s Festival, Microsoft unveiled a partnership with Games for Change, the organization that produces the event. Together, they will produce the Xbox 360 Games for Change Challenge, launching in August.
The contest will award three cash prizes to the makers of the best student activist game entered in the competition. Beyond the cash, these three finalists will also be given the chance to pitch their ideas to the managers of the Xbox games team at Microsoft, American Idol-style. And keeping consistent with the reality-TV approach, the top winner will become an intern at Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business in Redmond, Wash., later in the year.
Also at the Games for Change Festival, Starbucks is showcasing an online game, Planet Green Game (http://www.planetgreengame.com), which the coffee giant produced in collaboration with Global Green USA, an environmentalist organization. Players choose a character, and then have limited time to make eco-friendly, everyday decisions, such as riding a bike around town instead of a gas-guzzling SUV or turning down a home thermostat, to score points. Although the game was launched in April, the company’s presentation of it at the Games for Change Festival helps Starbucks align its brand with the activist games movement, and will help the corporation further target socially conscious youth.
Now that high-profile corporations such as Microsoft and Starbucks are sponsoring activist games with their vast financial resources and promoting them with their marketing departments, they will no doubt play a hand in educating more young gamers about socially conscious causes such as global warming. In the process, they will also draw more gamers to their brands — as do-good consumers of their products. But at the festival, companies could also attract potential game-savvy employees among the students in attendance, even before Microsoft’s upcoming contest kicks off later this summer. To recruit as well as publicize their brands at the event could be a smart strategy for corporations looking to gain from attending the Games for Change Festival.”