On Saturday, December 5, I had the pleasure of joining about 30-40 other participants at the "Conscience Unconference" in Washington DC, sponsored by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Center for History and New Media. Having experienced a few unconferences before, I knew coming in that the quality of the experience would lie largely in the expertise, effort and engagement of the participants who showed up, as well as the skill of the facilitators in creating a collaborative environment.
Luckily, both those conditions were more than fulfilled at the Conscience Unconference.
There were a host of very interesting proposed sessions that I wanted to participate in. In the end, I went to the sessions on digital games / virtual worlds, youth-produced video, a discussion on participation, a "nuts-and-bolts" roundtable, and the challenges of teaching using social media. More importantly, I made several personal connections with individuals from a number of important institutions that are interested in using social media to reach new audiences, spur civic action, and connect people across distance.
I really enjoyed facilitating the session on digital games and human rights education. This session had participants from a range of institutions including the Lower Eastside Tenement Museum, the University of the Andes, the US Institute of Peace, Education for Justice, the Center for Social Media, the American Museum of Natural History, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The group shared how their own institutions were thinking about serious games as educational media and human rights advocacy, and some of the challenges they were facing.
Among the issues we talked about:
- How to expand your institution's audience using serious games
- The nuts-and-bolts process of creating games and working with game developers
- Creating a game that spreads virally, creating a "good" game
- Keeping track of what serious games were out there and how they might be used (check out USIPs excellent Peace Media database!)
- How to portray serious and complicated issues using games
- How to measure if the players are actually learning what we want them to learn
- Creating community and stimulating group conversations via games
Prof. Jairo Eduardo Carrillo of the University of the Andes in Colombia talked about the work his department has done with college students to develop serious games on issues that are important to Colombians. The first game was on the issue of kidnapping and the government response. Another is on children in armed conflict that is linked to a feature length animated film on the same subject. Really gripping and amazing stuff going on in Colombia!
I talked about some of the serious games that Global Kids youth developed over the past three years, as well as our overall approach to youth development using social media. The three games that resulted from our "Playing 4 Keeps" program are:
We discussed some of the negative perceptions of digital games, i.e. "Grand Theft Auto", as well as the public's growing awareness of games as a legitimate form of new media. In this context, I mentioned the new and provocative Border House Blog, a site to support feminist, anti-hegemonic perspectives on digital games and virtual worlds.
All-in-all, it was a really neat session that affirmed for me the importance of games as tools for civic engagement and youth development. I'm looking forward to what develops out of these conversations and new connections.