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“Whoever you are or wherever you’re from, we all have the power to evoke change, to go outside our comfort zone and evolve, so we can change the world into a better, more diverse, inclusive and equitable place” said Leo Olebe, Managing Director for Global Games, Play Partnerships at Google during his keynote at the 2022 Games for Change Festival. “Games can help us do just that.”

For close to two decades, the Games for Change Festival has been a central discussion hub for the conversation around the global social impact of games and immersive media. From July 13-16, developers, educators, researchers, students and other game-changers gathered in-person in New York City and virtually for curated talks, panels and arcades to network, share insights and build a blueprint for transforming the world.

This year’s event, sponsored by Google for Games, featured Olebe’s opening remarks, “Change Matters. Games Matter. You Matter,” which celebrated those around the globe working to create real change, and why games have such tremendous power. In addition, Careen Yapp, Strategic Partnerships, Stadia and Immersive Stream for Games, Chairman of the Board of Women in Games International, and ESA Foundation Board Member, highlights what you should know about applying to industry scholarships as a student, from an expert herself.

Why do games matter — and why do you matter?

“Games have the global reach and impact to connect with people on a personal level, and be our catalyst for change,” Olebe said.

With the global games industry surpassing 3 billion players, the games we create can tell more unique stories that resonate with more people. In the United States alone, we’ve seen the wider community rally to support the refugees of the war in Ukraine, social justice, mental health, Pride, trans rights and women’s rights. And while there’s a long way to go before the industry is an equitable space, every day more voices join the chorus and progress gains more ground. Each one of those stories is another rallying cry. 

The Google Play initiative, Change The Game, aims to support and empower women as game players and creators, to improve representation in the mobile gaming world, and create purposeful change in the industry. The team conducts research, such as an upcoming whitepaper that dives into the intersectionality of women mobile players in the U.S. The program also fosters youth engagement, partners with forward-thinking organizations and spotlights stories of success.

For instance, industry leaders like Momo Pixel have re-defined who a game designer is and can be, and what games can do for equity and belonging. Florent Maurin is helping to lift the voices of the marginalized and disenfranchised as one of the designers of the Google Play Indie Games contest winner Bury Me My Love, which tells the story of Syrian refugees.

“What I think Momo and Florent have in common is the ability to inspire the world around them — to think differently and make the world a better place,” Olebe said. “This is what the games industry can do, what we can all do.”

#WeArePlay also celebrates the stories of people building apps and games businesses on Google Play around the world. Olebe is inspired by creative minds like Alyssa and Yvonne who are hoping to leave behind a legacy — and hopes every person in the room and watching virtually has the opportunity to create meaningful change.

He noted that change isn’t about doing everything; it is about doing something. Doing anything. Making a difference, and bringing people in, not pushing them out.

“Remember, you do have what it takes,” he said. “You ARE awesome. I believe in you and y’all need to believe in each other.”

How to win scholarships and grow your professional community: advice from an expert

Later, Careen Yapp spoke with a recent Generation Google Scholarship winner, Sope Olusegun-Lartey, to share first-person insights into the experience.

“The Generation Google Scholarship was established to help aspiring students pursue degrees in tech, and become leaders in the industry,” Yapp explained. “The scholarship for women in gaming is awarded based on the strength of each candidate’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, a demonstration of their leadership skills, and academic performance.”

Olusegun-Lartey, a games brand relations intern and student at Drexel University, offers crucial advice for other students aspiring to land games scholarships. At the top of her list, she recommends preparing applications early (at least three months before the fall semester) and taking repeated classes with professors that can speak to your growth and skills over time within their written recommendations.

Most important, Olusegun-Lartey said, is to choose carefully when searching for the right scholarship — “search based on your passions, your interests,” she said. Gaming is a STEM degree, she added, but it’s also an art. That opens the door for both STEM and creative scholarships.

In addition, keep your identity in mind when searching, from your ambitions for the future to the scholarships aimed at supporting those with marginalized identities. Tap into your network to find folks who have gone through the process — and work on throwing your network wide, because that can expose you to new opportunities.

Olusegun-Lartey, whose degree is in animation and visual effects, pursued the Generation Google Women for Games Scholarship as a way to explore whether her passion for playing games could translate to a career in the industry. As a recipient, it’s had a tremendous impact on her outreach to the games community and industry.

“Immediately, when you win a scholarship, especially if you’re not the only winner, you meet other people who are striving to achieve something in that industry,” she said. “I made friends. I was able to network with other people. I was able to see that gaming is actually where my interests and my strength lie.”

She found the scholarship kicked off a snowball effect, opening up opportunities for other scholarships in the field and increasing her viability as a candidate for prestigious internships like her current role. But even incremental progress has a compounding effect — and a slow start isn’t a sign.

“You need to understand that, first of all, the games industry has a smaller amount of roles than other industries, just in terms of numbers,” she explained. “If you don’t get the first, second, or third thing you go for, it’s not a reflection of your skills. It doesn’t mean you’re not fit for this industry. It might just mean that sometimes they don’t have enough space.”

Because you never know when and where your opportunity will crop up, she recommends staying on alert, setting LinkedIn reminders, and casting your net wide across your professors, classmates and friends.

The biggest piece of advice Olusegun-Lartey has, though, is to just focus on doing excellent work.

“Perfection is not possible, because no one is 100 percent perfect”, she said. “But focus on making sure every game has your all. Give it a bit more of a push. People watch and see who’s putting in the effort, who’s paying attention, who’s going the extra mile. These little things can make you stand out.”

To learn more about the Generation Google Scholarship, go to buildyourfuture.withgoogle.com.


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