The Games For Change Festival Is Looking To Go Mainstream

Video games have, since their inception, grown from a niche culture into something integral to modern society. As I'm certain I've demonstrated more than once, the applications of video games extend far beyond an entertainment medium (though they've gained immense popularity in that respect, as well). Today, the Games for Change Festival announced that it hopes to highlight the newfound importance - and multiple applications - of gaming through a partnership with the Tribeca Film Festival.

As a result of this partnership, the annual festival might well go mainstream. 

The Games for Change Festival will become part of the Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair, which takes place on April 26 in the Tribeca Neighborhood of New York City.  Among its other attractions, Tribeca will include an entire street for the Games for Change Public Arcade. The arcade will be located on Jay Street, where there will be digital games, non-digital games, and a selection of guest speakers and presenters.

This means that the festival will effectively be thrust into the public eye, with more exposure than ever before. With that in mind, Burak and his team have redesigned Games for Change from the ground-up, redesigning the event in order to gear it towards people who might not understand the true value of gaming. Virtually everything - from speakers, to presentation format, right down to the public face of the festival - is being changed. 

In years past, Games for Change primarily relied on submissions. This year, they threw that reliance out the window, instead actively reaching out to find more specific voices and topics. This, they hoped, would allow them to create a more curated experience; the end result of this effort, says Burak, is a more "directed" show with a significantly more coherent voice.

"In the past," he explained to Polygon, "we had a lot of speakers, but some felt it created an incoherent voice." Although plenty of big names spoke at Games for Change, Burak felt that most of them didn't really add anything to the show. Many of them simply talked about how much broader the acceptance of gaming's become - something he feels is no longer necessary to address. 

According to Burak, Games for Change doesn't simply want to bring people to the festival who drone about how games are important - we already know they are. Instead, he wants to see speakers who demonstrate game theory, game thinking; and the application of games in science, health, economics, and more. 

This year's show thus will include a host of speakers from outside the games industry, including Craig Hatkoff, Deborah S. Levine and Noah Falstein. Plenty of well-known game designers will be making the rounds as well, including Superbetter Labs' Jane Mconigal, Nevermind creator Erin Reynolds and thatgamecompany's Jenova Chen.

Burak says he's still floored by how quickly this all happened - particularly since the idea to partner up didn't occur until November. From there, it was something of a rollercoaster - in just a few short months, Games for Change had to completely overhaul how they would run their conference. 

See, agreeing meant they had to move the festival from the summer months. This represented a considerable shift in both scope and focus: many of the educational speakers who might otherwise have attended Games for Change were only available during the Summer months. Ultimately, Burak says that although things were a bit nerve-wracking, it's not a decision any of them regret.  

"It was exciting and scary at the same time," he said. "We've always said we wanted to be the equivalent or the little brother of Tribeca and Sundance. Suddenly it's no longer a slogan, we do have a public-facing event, live games, real outside outdoor games. Suddenly it is a festival and not just a conference."