Games For Change
GamesBeat: I think of games like Life is Strange 2, where you get a story spoonfed to you that you cannot deviate from. There are slightly different variations on the ending, but the choices that you make that are big ones for the characters — these are made by the storytellers, by the game designers. They make the big decisions. The only thing you get a choice in is who you’re attracted to in the game. You can choose to be sexually attracted to the male friend or the female friend. That was an interesting and different take on where we’re going to allow the gamer to make choices.
Bellamy: You can think about The Sims. There’s a game where — I mean the old-school Sims. That was something where you could really explore the traits and what it’s like to live as someone. My husband and I made us in The Sims, in our house. Our characters were doing what we do. I’d be on the screen as I played the game. Going back to the four pillars, that player customization of experience — it’s super interesting to see how that’s being explored and what that makes you think about. Whether it be — when you raised the question, you said, “You shoot all kinds of people. What does that make you feel about representation?” I think that’s what I heard was the question. Okay, fair? That’s a certain kind of progress.
GamesBeat: I think of some of these games as progress. We’ve made progress in the video game industry just as society has changed. That narrative can be challenged. But to see progress in diversity reflected in video games is, to me, a satisfying thing. And I think it’s because of the work of people like you that these things exist now. The gamers of today and the gamers of tomorrow can benefit from the kind of work that you’ve done. That must feel good. Inspiring people to create these kinds of things.
Bellamy: Not only inspiring people, but I think a lot of the work is in connecting people to afford them the opportunities. A lot of our work is in putting people in places to be their best selves, wherever that may be. That can be a lot of the work. Even the teaching — back when I was young, in school, we used to learn states and capitals. Lansing, Michigan. I could do that all day. We didn’t learn as much about what the capital does, why it’s important to your life. Why is Sacramento so important? How does it affect you every day?
That’s a lot of the work we do now in teaching.
GamesBeat: What more change do you want to see? What kind of progress?
Bellamy: Going all the way back, games are discussions. More discussions need to be had between people who are the same, or people who think they are the same, and people who think they are different. My hope is that — I’ll use the word, but — for game makers, I want to democratize their ability to create these discussions, and also for people to be able to discover and experience these discussions. It motivates me.
I feel, more than ever, across the things which may divide us, or that are bringing us together in large groups, that games are a powerful part of that discourse. Especially games for change, however you define positive change.
GamesBeat: They inspire the conversations that lead to change.
Bellamy: Absolutely. They are part of the change. Games are a place where that agreement or disagreement happens. Games are something where it’s already being more democratized in that we can play games — when I was a kid you couldn’t play games with people in another country, just by turning it on. You could play games with people at the arcade, or if people came to your house. You could play games on the internet, but only if you set it up at the same time. Now we can play games on our mobile devices, which we all have, with people all around the world, and have a discourse that gives value to people.
Your expectations of what someone else is, who they are, they change via games and the connectivity that only games have, with a shared interaction to drive the result. It’s different than watching the same movie. Playing a game together is something that can truly help people value and understand each other and respect each other more than when they started.
Democratizing that, so there are more voices — that’s one of the challenges. Who’s making these games? There’s a number of points of friction that we try to reduce through education, through professional development. Why do we do webinars? To reduce the friction of discovery, of people talking to professionals in their craft.
At an academic level, we’re working with people who’ve devoted their lives — they’re 17, 18, 19 years old. They’re saying, “My life is games. This is my core skill.” This is their main thing. There’s a great responsibility and opportunity to strengthen them, to move the friction out of their way, so their voices can be heard and discovered, and so that their conversations can be had. That’s meaningful.
When I look back on my career — if I have a slight impact, that’s amazing. But I remember even our first team on Madden. Our first intern team we brought in. Many of them stayed with the game for 20 years, 25 years. It’s the same thing to me. Back then, it was more like the Bill Belichick coaching tree. We had Kraig Kujawa, who went on to do Blitz. Brian Jackson went up to Microsoft. Jeremy Strauser and Dan Baker went to Tiburon to do college and pro. Or me, back then, that was my lens. Football. How can we propagate into the world?
Today, there’s this amazing generation of people of all walks of life. Some of them come from an academic path. Some of them come from an identity path. But all of them want to learn more and want to have these conversations. The change that I want to make is for them to have the freedom to create more of these conversations. When it gets down to it, it’s going to be about these conversations that were driven by play.
We took a while to get here, but that’s where my heart is. Giving more people an opportunity, a place at the table, to drive these discussions, to give them a voice, is what it’s about. That’s how we’ll look back on what success — at least to me.
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