Çiğdem Uzunoğlu is the Managing Director of Stiftung Digitale Spielekultur (Foundation for Digital Games Culture), the foundation of the German games industry and an ambassador for games and their opportunities. With us, she talks about the importance of the foundation, the relevance of video games and their different projects.
You are celebrating your 10th anniversary this year. Congratulations! How did the foundation change from its humble beginnings to today? Why was it founded Berlin?
For our kind of work, it is important to be close to the focal point of Germany's national politics. So, it makes sense to be located near the heart of Berlin. When the foundation started its work in 2012, it was a two-person bureau integrated into the premises of the German Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body (USK). Among other tasks it basically started out as the office managing the application and jury proceedings of the Deutscher Computerspielpreis (German Computer Games Award). Another important milestone was the start of our cultural education initiative Stärker mit Games (Stronger with Games) in 2018, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
At the beginning of 2018, I took over as managing director of the foundation. In mid-2019, we moved into our own offices in Berlins City West and started several new projects and initiatives. Among them is Erinnern mit Games (Remembering with Games), an initiative dedicated to discussing what games can contribute to the culture of remembrances concerning the Second World War and the Holocaust. In 2020, we launched our initiative Games machen Schule (Games for School Lessons), another important milestone. By now our team has grown to a dozen and most of the time we are developing several new projects at once. The contribution of games to an overall better society in the digital age remains the connecting theme of all our projects.
Why do we need a foundation like yours? Do other countries have similar institutions?
Over the last decades games have impacted many parts of our lives. Not just as a primary form of entertainment, but as a driving force for technology and innovation as well as for digital culture in general. Even now, all these facets of games are sometimes still overlooked or not taken seriously. This is where we come in. The Foundation for Digital Games Culture is building bridges between the world of games and political as well as social institutions in Germany. We initiate and realize projects in the fields of culture, education and research to carry the manifold potentials of games into society.
As far as we know, there are only few non-profit organizations like us active in the international gaming sphere yet. The South Korean Game Rating and Administration Committee is a governmental organization which next to age ratings is also concerned with game-based education programs. We are in contact with them occasionally. But as an organization going back to a common idea of the German Bundestag and the German games industry, I think our foundation is probably a unique entity so far. Of course, there are other actors concerned with education and other charitable subjects linked to games like industry associations, public institutions and so on.
What makes video games culturally and politically relevant?
Games have become one of the defining aspects of popular culture. Their influence can be seen everywhere from other forms of entertainment to modern art to other industries. On top of that, they have become a global phenomenon for people to connect all over the world. They have established and pushed trends in technology like mobile devices, extended reality and possibly the metaverse. At our foundation, we believe in a society that uses games to shape and drive digital transformation by unlocking their potential for various applications.
How do your projects and programs come to pass? How do you decide what to do next and what do you do with the results?
All our projects and programs are either funded by public institutions or other foundations and partners who want to cooperate with us. Sometimes we see a relevant topic and develop our own approach with games, other times another party might approach us and suggest a topic. Our main focal point is always the relevance of the topic for society. We want to change and move things with the help of games. All results are usually published on our website or in other forms of media. Ideally, these results lead to new projects and other organizations taking on the same topic. The success of Erinnern mit Games is a prime example. More and more memorial sites, museums and other organizations are taking inspiration and start their own game projects.
Relaying digital and media competence and the diversity of the professional field to young minds is one of your thematic focuses. Please, tell us more about your projects “Games machen Schule” and “Projekttage Games” and how successful the projects have been so far.
The Projekttage Games (Project Days Games) in Berlin and Brandenburg are one of our most established educational projects. They are funded by Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg. Every year we sent game developers as well as media educators to regional schools to hold workshops with the pupils in class. These either deal with how games can be used in certain school subjects, or they provide insights into the different career opportunities in the games industry. This year we received more school applications than we can cover, so the demand is increasing with each year.
Games machen Schule is an initiative we started in 2020 to examine the integration of games into different school subjects and their curricula. One important part is to figure out what requirements schools must meet to make the use of games as learning materials possible. Last year we concluded a six month pilot project in Berlin, funded by the Senate Department for Education, Youth and Family. The general findings were that pupils as well as teachers saw clear benefits in the use of games, especially an increased motivation to learn among pupils. On the downside, some of the schools lack the technical infrastructure and maintenance to use games properly in classes.
Climate change is the most urgent task of our generation. With your expert conference “One Planet Left” you did your part of dealing with this topic. What where the key findings of the conference and how will you continue the effort to fight climate change?
One Planet Left was an eye-opening experience for us. The conference made clear that, yes, you can use games in different ways to raise awareness for climate crisis and environmental protection. However, the problems right now are systemic, and we cannot simply solve them by raising awareness. Many industries must change in this regard and the games industry is in a process of change, too. The conference itself also debated about these changes and challenges.
Likewise, we try to contribute our part as well: The foundation started to compensate emissions in 2020 and more and more game companies are doing the same. The Playing For The Planet Alliance, which was launched in 2019 during the Climate Summit at UN Headquarters in New York, is a prime example for the industry taking responsibility. Another is gamescom goes green, the new climate protection program of the largest games event in the world, taking place in Cologne.
Your accelerator program „Start-up: Games-Entrepreneurs” is funded by Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and is focused on knowledge transfer between founders and experts. What are your expectations for this program?
„Start-up: Games-Entrepreneurs” is a kind of test run. It is a non-material education program for aspiring and new entrepreneurs with games related ideas. Yes, our goal is to give founders orientation for the different aspects of starting up a game company: leadership, legal, marketing and so on. But our meta-goal is to examine how a program like this must actually be put together to have real value for game developers. So, from a certain point of view, the program is a research project, too.
The foundation also coordinates the DCP (German Computer Games Award) together with game. What changes have you observed in the awarded games over the years and how does Berlin as a games location score in comparison?
Since the inception of the Deutscher Computerspielpreis (DCP in short) many things have changed. Back in 2009, when the award was founded by the German Bundestag and the German games industry, games were still more frowned upon in public and they were not really that established as a cultural asset yet. So sometimes there were a lot of discussions around which games can or should be awarded. For example, if educational value is mandatory and things like that. Today these discussions are a lot more informed and measured. Of course, over the years the award categories also changed a lot, as they must reflect the actual industry trends. Serious games, mobile games, live games, the players themselves: Every part of gaming culture must be recognized and the current 16 award categories make sure of that.
Nowadays, in my eyes the annual award show offers a good overview where the German games industry is at, and which trends influence German game developers. Berlin is certainly one of the hot spots für game development in Germany. Therefore, the region normally has its fair share of nominations and awards. Yet, the DCP is a federal award and there are lots of great games submitted from all other Germany every year. The award show itself commutes annually between Berlin and Munich, doubling down on its nationwide appeal.