Games for Change President Susanna Pollack has high hopes for her festival, which had a soft launch today and fully kicks off Monday through Wednesday.
“Our mission is to empower the social innovators and game designers,” Pollack told The Daily Walkthrough. “The festival has been around for 14 years and it has grown in both size and scope in terms of what we cover.”
That coverage now includes a heavy focus on virtual reality. This year’s festival features a VR for Change Summit covering everything from reproductive health to combating prejudice to education. “Over the last three years in particular, we have expanded it to other areas of focus where games are starting to be adopted to different kinds of work.” Experts in the myriad of fields VR touches will come together to tout the benefits it has to offer.
There will also be a panel with Overwatch voice actresses Anjali Bhimani, Lucie Pohl, Carolina Ravassa and Blizzard senior casting and voice director Andrea Toyias Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. EST.
What do these presenters and Games for Change itself hope to achieve? Empowerment.
“Our mission is to empower the social innovators and game designers,” Pollack says of the festival, which is nicknamed “the Sundance of video games.” “For me, the end goal really is that there are ideas that are inspired, or new projects or a deeper understanding and commitment from newcomers, who are here to explore and to learn more about this space and go out there and actually commission or make a project and help bring together people to foster more collaboration.”
New York’s largest gaming event saw roughly 840 attendees last year, but sold tickets for more than 1,000 people this go-around.
Aside from things like VR, the festival’s influence extends to topics like women in gaming and combating toxicity in online settings.
When it comes to women, Pollack says she thinks “the culture in gaming is changing. The statistics were not very strong five or 10 years ago, but as more women enter computer science fields, engineering fields, gaming in particular, gaming design programs, we’re finding more and more women in the studios contributing to making games that are more inclusive. Overwatch is a great example of that. I think the culture is changing and we’ll see a lot of improvement as more women are entering the workplace.”
As for things like cyberbullying? Games for Change is working to tackle that, too. “Highlighting these kind of problems and addressing them up front is probably one of the main ways we can support the conversation that hopefully leads to change,” Pollack explains. “We are obligated as part of the industry to have a conversation about respecting gamers regardless of their background and helping bring people together. I think it’s a broader problem than just the digital anonymity of being in a gaming or virtual reality environment.”
But the festival isn’t all work and no play. Pollack teased that there are “a couple of parties going on. The one we haven’t announced yet is we’re having a party after the VR For Change Summit on Wednesday at a place called VR World. It’s a huge VR arcade that has over 50 VR experiences. It’s a super fun space. They’re going to close it down for us. They actually even have a liquor license which I think is sort of interesting. We’ll see how beer and wine and VR mix.”
TheDW will be sure to report back on the pros and cons of mixing alcohol and virtual reality.