Serious Gaming: Games that Can Change the World

This is the second of two posts on serious gaming and corporate social responsibility. Part 1 discussed Teaching Sustainable Values through Serious Gaming.

By Cindy Mehallow

In my first post on gaming and sustainability, I discussed the growing use of online and video games to teach sustainable values and drive behavior change. A growing number of business leaders, academicians and government officials believe that so-called “serious” gaming has the potential to help achieve the systemic change that society needs to reach its sustainability goals.
There’s also a movement to harness the phenomenal popularity of games to help teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills to teens while instilling social consciousness.

Speakers from Deloitte, Advanced Micro Devices and E-Line Media shared cutting-edge developments in sustainability and technology education at the recent Justmeans “Social Media, Technology and Change: The Future of Stakeholder Engagement” conference in New York.

As a manufacturer of CPUs, graphics cards and other computer components, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) relies on a highly skilled workforce at a time when the number of qualified candidates is declining. Like many other corporations, AMD strategically links the investments of its foundation to its core business.  In this case, that means channeling funds to workforce development programs that teach the skills AMD needs.  AMD Corporate Responsibility Director Tim Mohin shared how his employer is using kids’ thirst for games for good.  Recognizing the huge amount of time teens spend on games, the AMD Foundation’s “Changing the Game” initiative funds a variety of programs designed to help students aged 13-15 “enhance their professional and educational skill sets, learn about civics and citizenship, develop a global perspective, and enhance their ability to contribute solutions to the social issues most relevant to their lives.”

Young people can develop critical thinking skills while enhancing their STEM skills not just by playing games, but also by developing their own games, explained Mohin. Developing games is a complex activity which requires teamwork, technical skills and critical thinking – qualities that lead will lead to success in a digital society.

Two high-profile AMD Foundation initiatives are Games for Change and the national STEM Video Challenge.

Through Games for Change, a digital gaming think tank and incubator, the AMD Foundation has sponsored a Games for Change Annual Festival to bring together leaders from government, philanthropy, civil society, academia, and the game industry to advance the use of digital games to address societal challenges.

Along with the Entertainment Software Association and Microsoft, the AMD Foundation sponsors the National STEM Video Challenge to motivate interest in STEM learning among fifth through eighth graders by tapping into students’ natural passions for playing and making video games. Students can compete in 14 categories for prizes for themselves (a laptop, for starters) and $2,000 cash for their school.

The initiative has broad-based support from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, E-Line Media, the American Library Association, the American Association of School Librarians, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, BrainPOP, and The International Game Developers Association.

“We’re working with elected officials to gain acceptance of games as valid educational tools,” reported Mohin.  “Games with social content can develop empathy and understanding of social responsibilities.  And by learning to design games, middle school students acquire job skills for today’s society.”

Acquiring job skills, cultivating a sense of social responsibility and developing critical thinking skills all while having fun…sounds like a triple play to me.

Cindy Mehallow is principal of CRM Communications, a woman-owned sustainability communications consulting practice specializing in corporate social responsibility reporting and stakeholder communications. GRI-Certified in sustainability reporting, Cindy has produced award-winning sustainability reports for Fortune 500 clients in a variety of industries.

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