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Video games no longer only entertain us. Innovative nonprofits like Games for Change now use video games to create social change. The New York City-based organization was founded in 2004 by Asi Burak, a former Israeli Defense Forces captain. Burak and his small team created the video game PeaceMaker in 2005, which simulates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Players make decisions based on real-life events that effect the social, political, and military dynamics for both countries. Helping people empathize with both viewpoints was Burak’s motivation to create PeaceMaker.

Asi Burak, Founder and President of Games for Change.

Games for Change Festival

The idea video games can create social change caught momentum within the past 10 years. Some credit belongs to Burak. Since 2004, Burak hosted the Games for Change Festival – described as “New York City’s largest gaming event.” Thousands of social change makers, behavioral scientists, video game designers and enthusiasts convene around the idea video games offer society a greater role than pure entertainment.

This April the Games for Change Festival teamed up with the Tribeca Film Festival; an exhibition traditionally associated with international and domestic film. But as the film industry evolves, appreciation has increased for video games as a medium for more than entertainment. Exploding popularity for video games designed with a social impact mission proves this.

Jane McGonigal speaks at the Game for Change Festival in 2010.

Jane McGonigal speaks at the Game for Change Festival in 2010. Oprah Magazine listed Jane as one of the top 20 most important women of 2010. She is currently the Chief Creative Officer for the popular social impact game SuperBetter.

Social Impact Gaming Soars In Popularity

In 2013, the game Half Sky Movement: The Game went live via Facebook. 1.25 million Half Sky Movement players see their virtual actions translate into real-world impact. Collecting 250,000 books in the game unlocks a donation of real books to Room to Read, a nonprofit designed to improve literacy and gender equality in developing countries.

Last month, Facebook purchased Oculus for $2 billion. Oculus makes virtual-reality goggles and places users inside virtual worlds with the ability to interact in real-time 3-D. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says after mobile, virtual reality is the next big thing.

An Oculus user gets immersed into the virtual world.

An Oculus user gets immersed into the virtual world. In August 2012, Oculus VR used Kickstarter to raise $250,000. They reached the goal in hours. Two days later Oculus raised $1 million.


The emergence of video games -once thought as mere entertainment – as potential resources for social impact presents an opportunity for assessment. Can you look at the resources you possess and consider ways they could be re-purposed to create social change?

The social change leaders and organizations who will thrive in today’s competitive landscape for resources will successfully use innovation to create larger and more sustainable impact.


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