State Department gets serious about games

Tech@State hosts conference on synergy between games and diplomacy

Gaming technology can be a powerful tool in diplomacy by helping government, nongovernmental organizations and people worldwide solve complex problems in a virtual setting, according to speakers at the State Department’s Tech@State conference on serious games held May 27 in Washington, D.C.

Tech@State is exploring how serious games can teach, train and solve problems in the real world at a conference held May 27-28. J.C. Herz, author of “Joystick Nation: How Videogames Ate Our Quarters, Won Our Hearts, and Rewired Our Minds and Surfing on the Internet,” is the mistress of ceremonies for the event.

Foreign diplomacy and games are complementary because games can help harness collective intelligence to solve complex problems, said Farah Pandith, the State Department’s special representative to Muslim communities.

Sixty-two percent of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims are under age 30, Pandith said, adding that her focus is on engaging young Muslims around the world. She encouraged gamers to help create serious games that help them build a new narrative of what it means to be modern and Muslim.

“Youth are shaking up the world through tweets, songs and online campaigns,” Pandith said.

People interested in games used for a serious end should think more broadly about games that everyone on the planet can use, said Ben Sawyer, co-founder of consulting firm Digital Mill and the Serious Games Initiative.

For example, he said of first aid games, “If everyone on the planet had good first aid training that places that person closer to someone who needs it.” Sawyer has been involved with games for health such as HopeLabs’ Re-Mission video game for teens and young adults with cancer.

People interested in developing serous games should define their audience and the context in which the game will be played; for example, at home, in the classroom or at a community center, said veteran game maker Asi Burak, co-president of Games for Change. Burak was also executive producer of Impact Games, creators of the PeaceMaker and “Play the News” gaming platforms. PeaceMaker challenges players to use their skills to bring peace to the Middle East or face the consequence of plunging the region into disaster.

A major challenge for serious gamers is to find publishers, so often these games are self-published, Burak said, noting that books, commercial games and films have publishers. A nongovernmental organization helped in the distribution of PeaceMaker, he added.


Related coverage:

Navy to battle Somali pirates with online game


Afternoon sessions on May 27 were scheduled to focus on game design, business and sustainability games, international considerations, military, and social change games.

Garth Jensen, director of innovation for the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock division, will join representatives form NASA and other game developers to talk about military games. Jensen has worked with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to launch a new Internet war game to figure out how to battle pirates off the coast of Somalia.

ONR’s Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet (MMOWGLI) launched May 16 and is scheduled to run for three weeks and recruit more than 1,000 players from across government.

Though the current scenario is battling pirates, ONR is experimenting with MMOWGLI to see how online collaboration from a diverse group of players could solve real-life problems.

The Serious Games conference is being held at the Jack Morton Auditorium in the Media and Public Affairs Building on the campus of George Washington University.

The event is being streamed live on the Internet.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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