“As Impact Producers, it's an opportunity to work on large creative projects such as ON THE MORNING YOU WAKE” - Susanna Pollack (Games for Change)
Featured at Sundance and SXSW, ON THE MORNING YOU WAKE (TO THE END OF THE WORLD) is the new work from the creative team behind NOTES ON BLINDNESS: INTO DARKNESS. More than that, it’s a powerful piece with an impact goal around non-proliferation of nuclear weapons - which resonates today more than ever. We discussed it with Susanna Pollack, President at Games for Change, who initiated the project with Princeton University.
Games for Change, a driving force at the global level
Susanna Pollack - For nearly 20 years, Games for Change has supported a global community of creators and innovators who are using games and immersive media to help people learn, improve their communities and, generally, just to make the world a better place. We work with technology and gaming companies, but we also work with nonprofits, foundations and government agencies, to run a range of different events and programs like our Games for Change Festival (next edition is July 13-16 - link). We also work with creators and social innovators to execute, to produce and support impact media projects and campaigns, which is how we got involved with ON THE MORNING YOU WAKE (TO THE END OF THE WORLD).
S. P. - We are best known for our annual festival, which currently reaches a global audience of 7000+ people around the world. What's interesting about the event and its attendees is that it crosses so many industries. We're bringing together game developers, educators and students, artists and technologists, but also nonprofit, leadership, academia, funders and government agencies. It’s our global flagship event, with over 110 countries participating last year. It was amazing to see such interest around the world. And now we're excited to say that we're going to be back in July with our first hybrid event - in person for two days and then we're going to continue on with a virtual event, so our global community can participate.
G4C and immersive storytelling
S. P. - We started to be interested in VR (now XR) as we were seeing a good number of our developers - and also the nonprofit community - exploring and being interested in how this new medium can help contribute to causes. And we did what we do with the gaming industry. We've been developing a community of practice for the use of XR to address real world challenges and drive social change. It's really exciting because we're seeing new possibilities in the use of creative storytelling to reach people.
S. P. - XR and games can have the same effect, but it’s even more enhanced with immersive content, which can help develop empathy, encourage dialogue, shift perspectives, mental models and behaviors. It's been really, really exciting to be part of the growth of this community. We've seen a platform that brings people together, and offers ways to connect and certainly, from a relaxation standpoint, just escape the issues of the world. With gaming, our actions with XR are all about raising awareness around climate change or social justice or - in our case with ON THE MORNING YOU WAKE - nuclear disarmament and the threats of nuclear weapons.
S. P. - For us, immersive narratives have the mechanics to create impact from an entertainment property. That's what we aimed for with ON THE MORNING YOU WAKE: a powerful story and an experience that will lead people to have some kind of change, whether they learned something or they're inspired to make a difference like that. We were involved from the very beginning. We work with nonprofits, foundations and brands to help them think through a production and marketing strategy - and how they can use games or immersive media to drive their impact goals. On this specific project, we were approached by Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security, which is one of the largest and most well-respected centres that focuses on nuclear weapons risk. They asked us if we can help them with the strategic plan and figure out what content can be created to help elevate and raise awareness about this critical issue.
How to drive impact with XR
S. P. - ON THE MORNING YOU WAKE started 4 years ago, well before the immediate concerns that we're seeing now, with the war in Ukraine. And that was the point! The threat of nuclear weapons never goes away. It just wasn't what people were talking about before. So, with our work with Princeton, we designed some early concepts and had some sense of the impact that we want to have: we decided it was going to be done in virtual reality. And that led us to bring Archer’s Mark and Atlas V in, to help develop a pilot with some funding that we had gotten from the Macarthur Foundation. They did such an incredible job with that initial piece, which was just like a proof-of-concept. Once we had that, we were all able to raise more money and create the 3-episode ON THE MORNING YOU WAKE piece that premiered at Sundance New Frontier (episode 1) and finally SXSW (episodes 2 and 3).
S. P. - What's interesting is our role as an executive producer. It doesn't end with putting the creative team together and helping raise the money, leading to impact. We are now developing and running a global impact campaign around ON THE MORNING YOU WAKE, because we are equally interested in establishing best practices and getting this really important piece out into the communities that we want them to see. It’s not our core activity, but we do that from time to time when we feel like we add value. We did it several years ago with the video game HALF THE SKY (link) by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, about women's empowerment. We did it this year on ACTIVE CITIZEN (link) with the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo and Minecraft Education, which is about the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, and its goal to reach students and build awareness about how one could become a change maker.
Starting a global campaign…
S. P. - It can take a long time, but we do see a real opportunity for Games for Change to help shepherd large creative projects like this, whether it's from the beginning and helping develop it, or to be able to step in and help other important impact projects that are made to get out in the world. I see real potential for our team as Impact Producers to lend support in that way going forward. The film festivals were really just the beginning of a global campaign. We have been working on developing partnerships around the world to bring this piece to different kinds of audience groups.
S. P. - We are going to launch our first museum activation at the Nobel Peace Centre (Oslo - link) in June, where we will hold public screenings. We will have a Summit for policymakers and government officials who are interested in talking more about this issue from a geopolitical standpoint, and we're also creating educational material. That way high school students can come through the experience and work with the museum educators on activities and discussion points. It's very important for us that ON THE MORNING YOU WAKE gets into the public like a museum experience. And we do hope to bring this piece onto university campuses and high school campuses, in policy gatherings as well as public spaces such as Times Square from May 17th to 24th (Amnesia Atomica, with The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists - link). We are now actively seeking opportunities to bring this piece to audiences and providing information for them so they can understand the piece, contextualize it - and figure out how they want to take action and engage with the issue.
… with anti-nuclear leaders and influencers
S. P. - It is really important to bring in other people who have a deep understanding of this issue to help guide the impact campaign. They also can guide the building of the experience itself. So we established a fellowship, a group of impact fellows who are leaders in the nuclear disarmament movement, and they are supporting the campaign by making introductions, advising, writing and participating on panels. We have Ray Acheson, who is from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. They were actually involved in that landmark “Treaty for Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons”, and was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
S. P. - We also have an artist and a nuclear expert named Lovely Umayam, who is the winner of the US State Department's Innovation and Arms Control challenge. She's another amazing individual involved. Lastly, we have Kauai resident Cynthia Lazaroff, who is uniquely involved because she's featured in the project, as she was there during the false alarm. But she also happens to be an expert in the field and she is the founder of Women Transforming Our Nuclear Legacy (link). She is an active voice in talking about this issue. Plus, through our partners at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security (an executive producer on the project), we have been able to reach out and talk with all the leaders in this field.
S. P. - We do hope to screen ON THE MORNING YOU WAKE soon in Hawaiʻi. It's very important that we continue to involve the residents of the island, and the indigenous community that were so greatly affected by this.