Students Create Games for Change at Games4SocialImpact 2021

The Empire of Mali. Wildfires. Social anxiety and agoraphobia. Mitch McConnell.

How do these relate to one another?

These were the game subjects tackled by the winning student teams of this year’s Games4SocialImpact.

More than 70 students participating in person and remotely made table-top, interactive adventure, and endless runner games, among other game styles within the span of 72 hours at the School of Computing and Information’s third Games4SocialImpact. Games4SocialImpact— a game jam in which teams plan, design, and create games with a positive social impact within a short time frame — took place Friday, October 1st through Sunday, October 3rd.

SCI Clinical Associate Professor Dmitriy Babichenko and English Lecturer Jessica FitzPatrick served as the event’s faculty supervisors and organizers.  Patrick Healy, a SCI PhD student, Kylie Dougherty, a Digital Narrative and Interactive Design (DNID) student, and Jagr Krtanjek, a computer science and DNID double major, served as the event’s student organizers and ambassadors. In addition to SCI, Pitt’s School of Pharmacy, Serious Play, BehaVR, the ETUDES Center, and Pitt’s Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences sponsored the event.

Aaron Gani, the founder and CEO of digital therapeutics company BehaVR, spoke to participants as the keynote for this year’s Games4SocialImpact. Himanshu Chaturvedi, Brandon Hedges, and Eleanor Anderson from BehaVR also participated in the game jam as mentors, offering help and answering student questions as needed.

Student teams were able to win six different awards: Jammers’ Choice, Judges’ Choice, Technical Achievement, Visual Design, Narrative Design, and First Penguin. Prizes included Oculus Quest VR headsets, Lenovo Android tablets, Wacom graphic tablets, and several board games.

Cartographers of Mali, a tabletop roleplaying game, won Jammers’ Choice and Narrative Design. The game focuses on the west African Empire of Mali, an influential civilization for Africa’s economic growth and educational advancements before its collapse. Spanning the 13th through 17th centuries, players explore Mali’s past through historical figures, events, and locations.

Keepless Nights, a visual novel centered on anxiety, won both Judges’ Choice and Visual Design. The game leads players through the daily life of a protagonist with social anxiety and agoraphobia, allowing the player to make choices that affect the story’s outcome.

 Prescribed Burn, the winner of the Technical Achievement category, encourages players to “fight fire with fire,” educating players on the practice of prescribed burns to prevent wildfires from spreading.  

McConnell’s Nomic, a board game that invites players to “put [themselves] into the mindset of antagonist politics,” took home the First Penguin award.  

All the game entries from this year’s Games4SocialImpact are available to try at