James Portnow – Games For Good

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Originally Posted on June 25th, 2013.

Hey LoL-Cats,

As you know, I’ve been talking a lot about Games For Good recently, and have been looking for ways to get more gamers informed about what’s going on. And what better way to do that than to discuss it with the man himself, James Portnow. I was lucky enough to be able to ask him some questions and get a more in-depth look at the Games For Good game plan.

And that’s about all the introduction that’s needed, so on to the good part!

First of all, congratulations on the success so far in the campaign and thank you for taking time and resources to make such a bold step forward for gaming as a whole.

Games for Good is already receiving a ton of support. Once the money is raised, where do you go from there? What’s the “battle plan”, so to speak?

I can’t talk about all of it yet, but it’s really three pronged:

First is to establish the game jam, get more games of this nature being made and get consumers (at least the hard core consumers) more interested in this type of game.

Second, is to work with the industry itself as well as grant organizations to make sure that more money goes to the creation of these type of games.

The third part involves more direct involvement with policy makers but I can’t talk too much here as I’m not sure some of the people I’m working with want their involvement public yet.

What kind of responses has Game for Good been getting from within the game industry itself? Are there people within the industry that are reluctant to bring games up for discussion?

On the individual and developer level it’s been remarkable. On the publisher/platform holder level I haven’t seen much response (except for Paradox, you guys are awesome ; ). I think it’s not “safe” enough for a lot of the big publishers. Once we stop hiding behind the idea that we’re “just making toys for children,” we have to take a good hard look at what we’re doing and take responsibility for making better games.

Any time there is a shooting or violent attack and video games are pulled into the conversation, the M-Rated games are brought out and showcased. While focusing on educational and positive games is a start, how do you plan on getting around the GTAs and Call of Dutys that will no doubt be constantly brought up as weapons against gaming?

It’s one of the hardest problems we face in this conversation, but can you really damn a whole medium for any specific work? Would you do away with films because Tarantino films have a high body count or would you throw out theater because Shakespeare leaves everyone dead on the stage? The idea that because there are violent games games as a medium are bad is simply specious.

Whenever games are brought up in the news or during political discussions, we often see the “anti-game” leaders come forward and speak their mind. But we don’t often see “pro-game” people within those circles. Does gaming have allies within politics or news media that are going to be willing to pick up the Games For Good ball and run with it once you’re working with them?

A few so far. This is going to be a big part of the effort of my next year, to create such allies.

The main focus of Games For Good is to shift the conversation from “why games aren’t bad” to “why games are good”. But it seems to me every time anyone from the game industry is invited on to a public forum, for instance a major news network, it’s during a time when games are under the gun and they’re simply there to “explain themselves” or defend games from attack. How do we avoid always being on the defensive in news outlets in the public eye?

By going on the offensive. By being proactive now, when there isn’t a major crisis, when there isn’t damage to be repaired or defense to be done, when the argument isn’t clouded by a national trauma and a really conversation can be had.

Games for Good is obviously just the next step in what is bound to be an uphill climb for years, and while this is a major foot in the door, the responsibility isn’t on you or this program alone. What can the gamer community do with this olive branch in order to further positivity around games on our end?

Honestly the first major step is dialog. Patiently having the conversation about why this medium matters, what it can do and what good it can provide us, with people who don’t necessarily see that in games, is one of the most important steps towards wider acceptance.

When faced with attacks on games, gamers themselves can do a lot of damage by getting defensive, abrasive and aggressive towards those that are questioning gaming. Do you see this as a blockade towards giving games a better public image that we can overcome, or will we always have trouble keeping away from succumbing to anger?

These people are usually cherry picked by our opposition. It’s not that it’s a false flag thing, but the people who want to see games regulated choose the most trollish members of our community and quote them or cite their actions all day. We’ll never be able to control the community and there will always be behavior that helps our opposition more than anything they themselves could come up with, but that just means it’s on us, the rest of the community, to point to all the great things this community does as well, things like Child’s Play, the Humble Bundle options and all the stories of players helping each other when in need.

Growing up, I played a lot of educational games in school such a Number Munchers, Oregon Trail, things like that, and some schools across the country and even internationally are implementing some educational games into their curriculum. I’ve even seen Konami recently work with schools on a DDR physical education program. Is this something that the game industry can expand upon in order to give gaming a better public image?

Yes, games in school are one of the best ways to show the positive aspects of games even to people who may not play games. Unfortunately in the US school system it’s very difficult right now to try out an untested game or teach through play, but this is part of the larger dialog I hope to have with Games for Good on the policy side.

I’ve read a lot of articles about video games being used in physical rehabilitation, for instance to help stroke victims recover. Are those within medical industry who use games this way potential allies?

I think it’s fantastic and definitely part of the incredible things that games can do. I’ve already begun talking to a number of people working in games for health. I plan to point to them as part of what games can do and to change the dialog. On the policy advocacy side though I’ll be more focused on education than on health.

The massive rise in Facebook and casual mobile games are getting video games into the hands of millions of non-gamers across the world. Could this be a potential market that could be used to get these positive games directly into people’s minds without having to simply TELL people why games are good?

All platforms, including many we haven’t yet envisioned, are conduits for the good that games can do and direct exposure is always the best argument, but I think we’ll have to use all tools available to us, including other media.

Video games have worked their way into the charity community, with organizations like Child’s Play and Extra Life (which I myself have worked with) raising millions of dollars a year for great causes. Would getting these events more coverage help show the gamer community as caring and compassionate, and not violent and anti-social?

Yes. I think it’s on us as a community to raise the profile of these events and lean on our local media outlets to give them more coverage, because they put truth to the lie of the stereotype of “gamer” that we so often face.

Finally, knowing the arsenal of positivity that can be presented to move the gaming discussion forward, what are some of the things the industry has to overcome to get to where we need to be?

We have to overcome our fear of being a meaningful part of people’s lives. We have to step out from under that shield of “oh we’re just making games” and accept the responsibility for doing more with this media. Games affect people; they change lives; they tell us about ourselves and teach us about who we are; they educate, entertain and heal. Games really do matter.

Thank you again for your time and all the work you’re putting into such a great step forward for the industry. Good luck on the rest of the campaign and know the gaming community is always ready to give you full support.

So, there you have it. Hopefully this inspires some of you to take the extra time to spread around news of this movement. Take some time to check out the Games For Good campaign page, donate if you can, and spread the word! We can begin to bridge the gap between what the gaming world really is and how it’s perceived.

I would also like to thank James Portnow for taking the time to answer these questions during his busy schedule. And I would also like to thank Soraya over at Extra Credits for working with me to make this interview possible and reaching out to the community during all this. Excellent work, and with the campaign at roughly 75% of it’s goal already, it’s almost certain to be a success.

One thought on “James Portnow – Games For Good

  1. A very enjoyable read, bob. I too often questioned the stereotypes my older family members came up with for me. We’re often the butt of many jokes in mainstream television and a source of controversy in the news. I would like a future where games are just as accepted as films and books.

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