Monday, April 12, 2010

Highlights from NTC 10 -Nonprofit Technology Conference #1 - Peace, Justice and Video Games

Last week I had the privilege of attending the most incredible NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) with almost 1500 people who are interested in and knowledgeable about technology for nonprofits. I experienced an explosion of learning and connecting and I am eager to share lots with you.

My husband and I travelled by car from New Jersey to Atlanta and the day before the conference we visited the Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum. It was a perfect way to start this trip. We have been visiting presidential museums and it is fascinating. They are each so different and besides recording biographical events and accomplishments in the president’s life they each reflect his personality. I am old enough to remember Jimmy Carter as an adult and I have read his biography so I didn’t spend too much time reading the panels outlining historical events. What struck me was the emphasis – rightly so, I admit – on Jimmy Carter’s commitment to human rights and peace. This is his legacy and he is proud of it. It was a good way to spend the day in reflection before the NTC conference. I had no idea that three days later I'd connect so vividly with this visit.

I almost missed one of the highlights of NTC and I am so grateful that I didn’t let tiredness rule on Saturday morning. After two solid days of morning to night NTC events the 8:30 AM plenary on Saturday morning seemed - well, “optional.” However, I am so glad that I went. The speaker was Asi Burak, co-founder of ImpactGames and executive producer of Games for Change. I had heard about Games for Change but with no real interest in video games - I did not know much. Asi changed that forever.

He talked about his background growing up in Israel and serving in intelligence in the army for five years. I wasn’t yet connecting with him…….Then he moved to Pittsburgh and studied computer gaming under Randy Pauch, author of The Last Lecture…I had a sip of coffee and perked up a little bit. And then he started to talk about his graduate project of developing The PeaceMaker video game as his graduate project…..and before I knew it I was captivated by every word he said.

Avi engaged experts on both Israeli and Palestinian policies and State Department expertise to develop content. His objective was a new kind of video game where winning didn’t mean there was a winner and a loser. He asked an audience member to come to the stage to play the game and game frames appeared on two giant screens. I wasn’t the only one up early on Saturday – over a 1000 people had shown up for this. The player first got to choose if he wanted to be the Israeli or Palestinian leader. The next setup is do you want to play in a calm, tense or violent environment – each becoming more difficult. You then are confronted with various scenarios and have response options. With some options you gave and got nothing, others might solicit a response with some potential for discussion. If you asked for too much you got nothing. On the bottom of the screen there is a measurement of your increasing or decreasing popularity with Hamas, Israelis and the rest of the world. The policy choices and impact of those choices are sophisticated and real. The room was silent as the volunteer made his way through PeaceMaker.

This PeaceMaker video game has been downloaded millions of times and is used across the world including in Israel and Palestine. It causes you to see the other side of an argument and the result of your approach. Pretty powerful.

Asi Burak also discussed the video games being developed with Sandra Day O’Connor to teach kids civic lessons in a much more engaging way than we currently do. Go SDO!

This presentation stretched my brain early on a Saturday morning and made me discover a whole new way of learning. Check the and soon they will have this presentation on their website available as a download. I highly recommend it.

My husband and I have continued south to Florida for some vacation. I will be blogging more about NTC but the schedule is weather and sunburn dependent.

Check back soon.


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