Update: The submission deadline has been extended until November 1, 2013 with the DC trip scheduled December 4-6, 2013. For more information and to apply, visit http://loftinnovation.org/.
The Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s Leaders on the Fast Track (LOFT) program announced last month the Video Game Innovation Fellowship, aimed at providing minority youths the opportunity to affect social change through video game development. Through partnership with the Entertainment Software Association and other organizations, LOFT’s Innovation Fellowship will award development grants to 20 minority youths (ages 16-24) whose video game concepts provide answers to the issues facing minority communities.
Though the applicants will find their concepts judged on potential community impact, the focus of the fellowship is the creator. “This program is an embodiment to our tag line of ‘helping a young leader help thousands more’ except in this case it can be millions more,” says HHF president and CEO Jose Antonio Tijerino. The fellowship’s intent is to provide young innovators with the practical skills sought in an industry where Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, and women are underrepresented.
LOFT seeks concepts that are clear in the issue they’re addressing and include a social component for empowering the users to bring about change. Priority will also be given to creators who plan methods of measuring the social change achieved and especially to developers who have their project started, though they’re open to passionate creators still in the idea stage as well.
Video games as a medium for social and scientific advancement are recently coming more into the public eye. In Britain, researchers faced with sequencing genetic data to save an estimated 80 million ash trees from deadly disease found that humans could recognize genetic patterns far quicker than a computer. Enter Fraxinus, a pattern-solving social app that’s not only insanely addictive fun but contributes to research. Top players will be credited on research articles borne from the project, and the research-as-game concept will be published in open-source format for future researchers to utilize.
Seeds of social change are planted at a personal level by independent developers like Autumn Nicole Bradley, who uses her talents for events such as June’s Creative Conflict Game Jam. A game jam is a flash competition for game designers, developers, and artists to create collaboratively or alone. In a 24-48 hour period, the contestants are given a theme around which they must design and execute a fully-functional interactive game. Bradley’s Creative Conflict theme, titled “Your Enemies Don’t Have to Die For You to Win”, addressed alternatives to violence and killing as conflict resolution. Through an RPG format, her text-based game Player 2 delves deep into the player’s interpersonal conflicts and directs all parties towards an actionable resolution. Bradley’s simple game has garnered a great deal of interest as it fulfills an obvious need: a method of acknowledging personal injury and planning closure.
The focus on societal change through video games and especially the LOFT Innovation Fellowship take on an extra measure of importance and hope for me. I often limit the video games my children play not because of violence but for the societal messages I refuse to encourage: as Latinos and living in a single-parent household, my children face stigma that limits their potential in the eyes of others. In a digital world where anything should be possible, characters like us are most often the victims, thugs, and byproducts of a virtual society that labels us disposable for the sake of advancing plot. I can teach my children not to point a gun at someone’s head in the real world; I cannot as easily fight the subtle and pervasive idea that some people are born to play only one role.
Do you share the same concerns and have an incredible video game idea that addresses those? The LOFT Innovation Fellowship is accepting applications until October 1, 2013. The Fellows chosen will be given the opportunity to present their concepts to influencers in Washington, D.C., in October and awarded grants to begin development. The Entertainment Software Association will be assisting the Fellows with the game development process. For more information and to apply, visit http://loftinnovation.org/ before October 1. Remember that applicants must be between 16-24 years old and a member of a minority group. For the rest of us, the comment section is open--with this topic, the only bad discussion is no discussion.