Susanna Pollack is President of Games for Change, an organisation that runs an annual festival that has been dubbed the “Sundance of Video Games.”
Through the G4C Festival, games of all shapes and sizes — including Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality — are assessed, highlighted and championed for offering “radical new ways to create social impact.” Games for Change runs workshops and consulting projects to share knowledge about how games and tech can help people learn and improve their communities.
These include games such as 3rd World Farmer, teaching players about the difficulties of agriculture in the developing world; games focused on addiction; and VR experiences to show players firsthand the devastating impact of deforestation.
“We’ve got game developers, people who work in research and academia, tech companies, people who work at not-for-profits, foundations, policymakers, the government, brands,” she said in an interview with Geek.com, explaining the G4C Festival. “People love games, right? So they come from all different verticals and are finding ways to actually use this medium beyond just entertainment.”
She added that even blockbuster games like the Assassin’s Creed series — which weren’t educational — have inadvertently gotten a generation of kids falling in love with world history, because of the authenticity and accuracy of the research in the game. A further relationship with the game’s developers helped them see the value in creating something explicitly educational, which came to be known as Assassin’s Creed: Discovery Tour.
Pollack has worked with clients including the United Nations, the Carnegie Foundation and the Women’s Sports Foundation to initiate programmes to advance the games for good sector.
In addition, she developed the G4C Student Challenge with the New York City Department of Education in 2015, aiming to bring a games design challenge to middle and high school students. That programme has now expanded across the US to cities including Pittsburgh, Detroit and Atlanta.
She previously held senior positions at BBC Worldwide Americas, where she raised $50m annually from co-production and sales of BBC’s award-winning documentaries and scripted content.
“The University of Washington created this game called SnowWorld, and it’s a VR experience,” she added to Geek.com. “Basically, you’re in a cold environment throwing snowballs at penguins while listening to Paul Simon. It sounds kind of silly and light-hearted, right? They found that if burn victims play this game while they’re having physical treatment in the hospital, they have a level of pain reduction that alleviates the need for more pain medication.
“I’m not a neuroscientist so I can’t quite describe what is happening in your brain. But through these trials, they’re showing that being in a VR headset playing a game — in this case in a cold environment — you’re distracted by throwing snowballs and listening to uplifting music. This actually redirects neurons in a way that registers pain. It’s incredible.”Tags: Social Impact, USA, video games