Educators' Guide to Innovation

Connecting educators interested in innovation

8th Annual Games for Change Festival

The Games for Change Festival is the largest gaming event in New York City and the only international event that brings together leaders from government, philanthropy, civil society, education, media, academia and the gaming industry, to explore the increasing real-world impact of digital games as vehicles for learning and as agents for social change. This has been an amazing event so far, with a diverse and eclectic group of people from around the world who believe and share a passion in the use of games.


On Monday June 20th, I attended the pre-festival summit in the Kimmel Center of New York University for a full day workshop titled Inspiring Digital Kids With Game Design. The day was broken up into 5 main sessions and a keynote address by former Vice President Al Gore. The hashtag for the event is #g4c2011 where a wealth of fantastic resources and insights can be found. Although not time friendly to Australia, a live-stream of the event can be accessed from

Below are my notes from Day 1 - although you may find a more comprehensive set of notes by going back through my twitter stream.


Understanding the Landscape: An overview of Approaches, Platforms and Intended Outcomes for Teaching Youth Game Design

This was a panel session about incorporating game-design into the school curriculum in an integrated way using a variety of tools. Panelists were:

Michael Agustin - Co-Founder of GameSalad

Harel Caperton - Founder of Globaloria

Alan Gershenfeld - Founder of E-Line Media & Gamestar Mechanic

Colleen Macklin - Associate Professor - New School for Design

An introductory session about the use of games and game design in schools with a particular emphasis on the use of GameSalad, Globaloria, Activate!, LevelUp! & Gamestar Mechanic. Each tool does something quite differently and caters for varying levels of students expertise.

Gamestar Mechanic which was developed in conjunction with Katie Salen and the Institute of Play, puts the focus on game design principles through the use of narrative. In essence it is a game-based digital learning platform designed to teach the guiding principles of game design and systems thinking in a highly engaging and creative environment. It is based on three principles: 


Play: Gamestar Mechanic features rich single-player Quests where players learn the principles of game design through exciting adventure games.

Design: Once players have shown a certain level of mastery, they earn a game design workshop where they can design their own original games.

Share: The game also features a vibrant community called Game Alley where players can publish, review and collaborate on games designed by other players.


Gamestar Mechanic allows students to learn about how systems work and how they can be modified or changed. Students learn to think analytically and holistically, to experiment and test theories, and to consider other people as part of the systems they create and inhabit. Through the game design process, students cultivate skills involving:

  • system-based thinking
  • creative problem solving
  • art and aesthetics
  • writing and storytelling
  • STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics)

I have been experimenting with Gamestar Mechanic for sometime, but it was great to hear from Alan Gershenfeld who is an amazing, engaging speaker. Gamestar Mechanic, in my opinion is ideally suited to Grade 4,5 & 6 students in Australia - no programming is required for students to participate in the narrative and start making their own games.


GameSalad is a slightly more sophisticated games design tool, that students can use for free to make games for iOS devices or the web. GameSalad's mission is to make game creation and distribution fun and accessible to everyone. GameSalad’s flagship product, GameSalad Creator, enables the 99% of people who don’t like to code to visually make and publish sophisticated games. In contrast to other game tools, GameSalad does not require a developer to know any programming. It has a drag-and-drop user interface that a developer can use to string together the elements of a game, from art work to sound - visually and mechanically similar to Scratch, but more in-depth. Agustin was highly engaging and has inspired me to go back to GameSalad and spend more time with it. Games created using GameSalad now make up 3.1% of all games uploaded to the iTunes store - a significant market share. Agustin told a story about Abdulrahman Al-Zanki, a 14-year-old student in Kuwait, who accepted a dare from a friend who said he was incapable of building an iPhone game. Three days later, he submitted his first game to the App Store. Now that game, Doodle Destroy, has been downloaded more than 1 mill... and has been featured on


Globaloria is basically an online games design curriculum that utilizes Flash and supports schools by providing online support and mentoring via a virtual learning environment.


*Important to note the major sponsors for the event and then align this knowledge with the fact that some of these companies and their associated products were heavily funded by the same organisations - overall a great start to the conference.*


Game Design in the Classroom

Panelists sharing their experiences using Globaloria in the classroom.

Bringing innovation into the classroom requires a commitment that includes the superintendent, principal, teachers, students and parents. This session highlighted the fact that games design and programming teaches important STEM skills that students will need to be competitive in the high-tech, multi-disciplinary world of the 21st century.

Resources, videos and example games created by K12 girls & boys shared from this session are available from


Keynote: Former Vice President Al Gore

Al Gore was the Keynote for day one and entered the stage to thunderous applause. I have been a big fan of Al Gore's for a long time and admire the tenacity with which he confronts resistance to change in his climate crisis campaign. He gave some humorous anecdotes whilst addressing the big issues of social change and the world around us - he did not pretend to be an expert on games and stated that the last game he was any good at was Pong. Al Gore sees tremendous value in the Games for Change movement and just his presence lends a great deal of weight and credibility to those pushing for the use of games in various sectors. After the keynote, a QA session was held and my friend and colleague Bronwyn Stuckey got her question answered and was addressed by Al Gore directly - a great moment that the audience enjoyed as Bronwyn was one of only three Australians in attendance.

Favourite quotes from Al Gore:

"Games are the new normal."

"Games have clearly arrived as a mass medium."

“It’s about the wow moments, the fist-pump moments, the lean-into-the-screen moments.”


Two quite different takes on the keynote have already been published.


Introduction to Game Design: A Hands-On Workshop for Educators

This was my favourite workshop of the day - run by Alan Gershenfeld and the team at E-Line Media. This workshop centred around Gamestar Mechanic and engaged the participants in game analysis and game design of non-digital games. This session forced collaboration between participants who did not know each other and really pushed participants thinking. The workshop focussed on going from player to designer and investigating the iterative design process whilst examining design elements, mechanics, components, games space and rules. Game modding was also discussed at length.


Community of Practice and Resources for Educators

This was a sharing session with resources being shared and discussed via twitter and on the stage. An archive of the resources shared during this session can be found at


Scholastic Game Design Awards

Showcase of student games from the Scholastic Game Design Awards -


Games Arcade

The Games for Change awards recognize excellence in games that address current and pressing social issues - the games nominated for awards were available to play and participants could engage in dialogue with the designers and developers about their games - this was a great experience!

The games that I was most impressed with:

The Curfew

Fate of the World


One Ocean Interactive


The day closed out with a drinks reception at the Skirball Center of New York University.

Looking forward to Day 2.


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Comment by Adrian Camm on June 22, 2011 at 12:54

It depends Anne - I would love to say yes but a teacher has to be willing to invest the time and also has to have the support from leadership to create an integrated curriculum that incorporates games design and programming. Alternatively, a games design subject could be run - similar to what Corrie Barclay is doing at Manor Lakes.

In saying that, there are so many resources available now for educators to start small with game-based learning and games design - My advice for anyone interested in trying out games-based learning with students is to start small and grow from there. Choose a resource from the above wiki and just start having a play.

It is an amazing conference - the game-based learning movement is really starting to gain traction. As Al Gore said, "Games are the new normal," and "Games have clearly arrived as a mass medium." :)

Comment by Anne Mirtschin on June 22, 2011 at 8:33
Thanks for sharing all this, Adrian. It sounds like a really great conference. Can you see us adapting many of these options back in our classrooms?


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