Games for Change 2011: Public Media and Games

June 24, 2011

At a time when public and educational media budgets are skimpy, yet under attack by a variety of sources, major governmental agencies have been speaking out in support of gaming as a major engagement force and artistic medium–and this was only at a day and an hour into Games for Change 2011. Yesterday, former US VP, Al Gore claimed that “Games have arrived as a mass-medium” and today, at a panel on Public Media & Games, speakers from NEA, NEH and PBS KIDS offered their 2 cents in a series of short presentations.

Matt Locke, of Storythings (formerly Head of Multiplatform Commissioning, Channel 4) moderated a panel of key leaders. Here are some highlights: Alyce Myatt, Director, Media Arts at the National Endowment for the Arts recently introduced a new Arts in Media funding stream, which includes “All available media platforms such as the Internet, interactive and mobile technologies, digital games, arts content delivered via satellite, as well as on radio and television.” The NEA is looking for projects with strong artistic merit and excellence, although the definition of “games as art” still needs to be defined. Alyce stated that “The fact that we don’t respect art in this country is “quite frightening” and that perhaps gaming can end the marginalization of art in American schools. I’m sure most developers will join me in thanking Alyce and the NEA for steering us down this exciting road (she also gave me my first job in kids’ TV and is a fellow Emerson College alumna, so I’m just a tad biased). Note that only non-profs are eligible; unfortunately they are not accepting submissions from independent artists or fiscal agents.

Matthew Meschery, Director of Digital Initiatives at ITVS, spoke about the misconceptions of funding for public media. He noted that the public need to know that public media dollars are not funding Grand Theft Auto. “Games can tell the story in a more immersive way that films can’t,” Matthew shared, as evidenced in recent ITVS games like Fatworld, World Without Oil and the Garbage Dreams game, which expands the experience in the award-winning documentary and transmedia project. ITVS is also funding a social game for Facebook on Half the Sky as part of their Women & Girls Lead transmedia/doc engagement project. This is how ITVS is thinking about cross-media for this initiative. Women/Girl power seems to be popping up a lot this year, which is fantastic, but that’s for a different post.

Michael Shirley, Senior Program Officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities is looking to platforms that reach diverse audiences and feels that games play a strong role in that approach. He cited recent social studies projects that are successfully engaging youth, including Thirteen/WNET’s Mission US (thanks for the shout-out) and Past Present.

Last, but certainly not least, Silvia Lovato of PBS KIDS GO! spoke about giving kids more control over their content by offering tools for content creation that will also engage them in the narrative with characters they love. Expanding on existing mash-up tools, their new product Cartoon Studio invites children into a more game-like experience around story and content creation.

Matt Locke ended the panel with: “Be first, cause trouble, inspire change” — great words, Matt. To all you inspiring media-makers out there, go do that!

Marj Kleinman is the Senior Interactive Producer in Children’s & Educational Media at Thirteen/WNET, collaborating on PBS KIDS GO!’s Cyberchase and Noah Comprende, as well as Thirteen’s Mission US and other projects. She has been producing kids’ TV and emerging media for more than 18 years and was previously Director of Digital Media at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

*This post originally appeared on the Games for Change blog on June 22, 2011.