Festival showcases games for social impact

A chemistry lab in virtual reality. A game that lets the player help scientists fight dementia. Minecraft for the classroom. These games all have one thing in common: they're all designed with social impact in mind.

"Like all forms of entertainment, we believe that games have power for social good," said Susanna Pollack, the president of Games for Change. The 14th annual Games for Change Festival is the biggest one yet, with 1,100 participants from all around the world at the New School at Parsons.

"What's so great about games and impact is they can be applied to so many different fields. Yes, we have games that can be used in the classroom to teach," Pollack said. "We also have games that can be used for humanitarian purposes, maybe to raise awareness around an issue or to create empathy, or to help chance social behavior."

The SuperChem VR by SchellGames is about education and aims to get people excited about science and ready to work in a real laboratory.

"Kids and other people that experience this game can learn about lab safety, lab equipment without getting hurt, with unlimited resources," Henry Braun of Schell Games said. "They can try over, they can fail as many times as they want."

Longtime participant and game developer Tracy Fullerton from the University of Southern California came to the festival to show her new game, Walden, which takes players on an immersive journey through Henry David Thoreau's classic piece of literature. Fullerton said it offers a form of meditation through gaming.

"What this game does is it gives you a moment to breathe, to take the time out, to think about what's important in life," Fullerton said, "to live a kind of simple virtual life and remind us what is means to set our higher priorities in life."

The Games for Change Festival runs through Wednesday. Tickets are still available online.