Games for Change Festival Interview: Alejandro Fenn from Global Gaming Initiative

Through NY Creative Interns’ partnership with Eventbrite for their blogger tour, I was able to get a ticket to the 10th annual Games for Change Festival. Games for Change is an incredible organization that promotes the creation and distribution of social impact games; their goal is to use the entertainment factor in games to help players learn, give, and become aware of what’s happening in the world. The Games for Change Festival is a three day long conference where professionals from the gaming industry present the social good gaming projects they’re working on to the press and public.

alejandro fenn                                       Alejandro Fenn from Global Gaming Initiative

One of the presenters at this year’s festival was Alejandro Fenn, a Creative Consultant for Global Gaming Initiative, or GGI, a company devoted to connecting people to global causes through gaming. GGI’s first project, Sidekick Cycle, will benefit the World Bicycle Relief; 50% of the game proceeds will go towards providing children in poverty-stricken countries with free bicycles, so they can get to and from school. Alejandro was kind enough to sit down and talk to me about the project, his role in the company, and how to get started in developing games for non-profit companies.

So, tell us a little bit about yourself and what exactly you do as a Creative Consultant for Global Gaming Initiative
Alejandro: I’m 19, a sophomore at Williams College in MA. Global Gaming Initiative is a big part of my life; as a Creative Consultant, I get to work on most of the content that goes into the games, and I’ll also work on the interface. I make sure the story of the game and the design are congruent with the message that the non-profit company wants to get across.

What would you say is the hardest part about making a game for a social good non-profit, as opposed to a strictly for entertainment profit game?
Getting the balance between awareness of the product and the entertainment factor is really hard. One of the unique things about Global Gaming Initiative is that we only work with companies that can provide a tangible product; we’re not just raising money, we’re working with players and with non-profits to provide a good to someone who needs it. We want our users to be aware of exactly what their giving half of their money towards, but we also want to provide them with a fun experience.

Would you tell us a little bit about the game, Sidekick Cycle?
Sidekick Cycle is a game designed to work with World Bicycle Relief to provide bicycles to kids in impoverished countries. In the [platform] game, you play as guy on a bike riding through different levels, collecting coins and other power-ups in order to get a higher score. You can also find and switch different animal sidekicks that allow you to do different moves on the bike [flips and other tricks].

What advice would you give to someone who wants to make their own social good game, or a game in general?
From my experience, there are three things that will help make a successful game: the first is congruence, the relation of the game to your overall goal. If the goal of your non-profit game is to give a chicken to a family, and your game features a rocket ship flying through space, it’s not going to do you much good. Second, make it accessible to your audience. Make sure you have a solid plan for every type of platform [PC, Mobile, Browser, etc.] you wish to have your game on, and make sure that your players can identify with the game’s interface. Third is feedback to the players and a reward system. People like to feel that they’ve accomplished something, even if it’s scoring some points or achievements in a game; make sure that players get something worthwhile to them once the gameplay has been paused or ended.

Any advice for students in general about following your passion?
Don’t be afraid to talk to people about things that are important to you. Global Gaming Initiative got it’s start after I told my mother, Elizabeth Sarquis, about a young boy I met in Ecuador named Javier who hated going to school because it took him over three hours to get there. I was very troubled by the story, and so was my mother, who decided that we needed to do something about this. That’s how the idea for the company started; if I had never mentioned Javier, GGI might not exist today. Always speak up about things that are important to you.

Thanks to Alejandro for this fabulous interview. I’ll be at the Games for Change Festival for the next two days as well, so if you have any questions for any of the panelists, post them here in the comments, or tweet them to me at @nycinterns or @stephlippitt.

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