Today I am one of ten people accepting a Dewey Winburne Community Service award given out by South-by-Southwest Interactive. The award is in recognition of my field-building efforts around serious games — the use of games for purposes beyond entertainment. It is an honor to receive such recognition from a well-known event and community. It is all the more humbling to receive an award named after someone who was as clearly loved by his friends as Dewey Winburne.
I have been given some honors in the past, but never an honor named in memory of someone else. As I thought about it, my responsibility gene kicked in and I saw how any award similarly structured gives and asks simultaneously. It gives you a pat on the back for job well done and a kick in the ass to do more going forward. Dewey Winburne left the world earlier then most, and his friends didn’t create a living memorial for him so the winners can rest easy. From now on, I am one of many past, present, and future, who in whatever small way they choose, are asked to carry Dewey’s spirit forward. What started as an innocent email late in 2012 quickly became something way more then a free pass and dinner at one of the world’s more famous events. It’s really not an award but a special catalyst that will aid me in the days head. To receive this award and to read Dewey’s bio is humbling.
Each Dewey awardee is given 90 seconds of time to say a few words. I’ve had several months to think about what to do with this time. The obvious is to use it to thank the many people who have be instrumental in my life, and the work, that the award recognizes. That’s a pretty long list. I didn’t do anything I’ve done by myself. So I decided that instead of a list of thank yous I would simply post a this note to my personal blog thanking, as best I could, people without whom I wouldn’t have done the work that caught the attention of South-by-Southwest Interactive’s organizers.
So here goes…
First off I want to thank my mom. I didn’t get my first computer, she got me my first computer. I didn’t just walk into my amazing schools, she put me in amazing schools. I didn’t watch the news every day, she turned the news on every day. My mom may not know how to program much of anything. But there isn’t a second that goes by where I won’t thank God for the things my mother did to “program” me. Any award I receive starts with her.
Second, I thank my wife Olivia Sawyer. Marriages are weird. They require things of you that no one ever explains. There is no manual you can turn to (well maybe standup comedy) to help you. The only person who helps you everyday in a marriage is the person who you married. For the 10+ years I’ve worked on serious games, from the earliest moments of its conception to the hard work of recent times, Olivia has been there for me. The endless travel, the on and off nature of raising money, all of it has been part of our life. Thankfully, in all the right ways, she doesn’t care about any of it. When you live something so much, it is a treasure to be with someone who makes all of it go away. Olivia gives me an entire other life that is about things that aren’t technical, political, or vocational. It makes it way more possible to return to the work I do that she takes me away from it each day.
Third, I want to thank my co-worker Beth Bryant. I keep telling everyone who will listen that she’s in charge. The ones who listen get way more out of me then those who don’t. Working with me is no picnic. Being a small company, making each piece fit, “chasing the shiny” while also making sure you get stuff you’ve committed to done, it is HARD work. Beth has made a lot of that possible and has the scar tissue to prove it. So I thank her for hanging in there, and being a big part of the work that this award recognizes. I’m lucky in that I get to go to SxSW and hang out and accept the award. But anyone who knows how my company operates knows that this is partly Beth’s too.
Fourth, I want to thank basically everyone else I’ve ever worked with in videogames, and serious games specifically. It literally is a cast of thousands. The award I’m accepting is for my work helping further the idea that videogames can potentially be a powerful tool for doing so many things. I know the many specific things I did to help accelerate and amplify this notion, but most of all I know the many things so many other people have done that are steadily making it clear that videogames are one of the most powerful and special modern day tools humanity has created. The various communities I’ve been a part of are at the heart of the work I’ve done. So if you’ve ever spoken at one of my events, attended a conference or meeting I’ve produced, built a serious game, posted on a message board, sent me an email, yelled at me on the phone, etc. Thank you.
Fifth, I wanted to be sure to thank everyone who has ever made a videogame I’ve played. Without videogames, and the INCREDIBLE people and community that make them, play them, write about them, and more then there is no basis for any of what I’ve done. It’s a bit of lovely game nerd coincidence that I get to recieve this award in Austin, where Origin Systems, and Richard Garriott, who made the games I most loved as a kid growing up were based.
Sixth, I wanted to thank 10 people and organizations who have been CRITICAL to the work I’m being recognized for. There are way more then ten, but these ten, relative to this work deserve my thanks most of all.
In nearly chronological order I want to make sure I thank…
Keith Weiskamp : I get to tell my kids I work in the field of videogames because of Keith Weiskamp who let me publish books about games and game development just because I was willing to do the hard work necessary to put a book out on this stuff when nearly no one else was. I cringe to look back at my early work, but without it I am not here today. Keith taught me how to finish. He also gave me the opportunities that honed my ability to turn new ideas and forward thinking into tangible results. Thank you.
Jesse Ausubel : If it wasn’t for a extremely fateful call in the 1990’s I would not be working in this field. If it wasn’t for the initial funding via The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation that Jesse provided I’m not sure there is a Serious Games Initiative, Serious Games Summit, Games for Health Project, Games for Health Conference, etc. I’m sometimes referred to as the “father of serious games” far from it. Jesse is the father of all of this. Thank you.
David Rejeski : Just in case anyone is reading, the term Serious Games, used in its modern form (adapted by Dave from Mr. Abt’s book ‘serious games’) relative to videogames is because of Dave. He was the one who realized first how broad and deep this all was. Dave is one of those people who is really truly a futurist. Real futurists don’t need that term anywhere in their bio. When the entire room is in the here and now, Dave is the one who is five steps ahead. Do not play any form of “chess” against this man. Do play it WITH him though. I was lucky enough to do so and it changed my life.
The Richard Lounsbery Foundation : This small foundation which backed the extended work in serious games that David and I did deserves a major thanks for their support. It is this money that not only ramped up The Serious Games Initiative but also provided the seed funding for Games for Change, Games for Health, and Serious Games Summit. When the history of some of this stuff is written people will be amazed at what $150,000 accomplished.
Jason Della Rocca : Jason deserves a lot of thanks. Without him Serious Games Summit doesn’t ever happen.
The Game Group @ United Business Media : The team behind Game Developer’s Conference taught me a lot about running events, and they were the funders behind 10+ serious games conferences instrumental to helping establish the field as much as anyone. Thank you to the many different people I worked with there over the years, Susan Marshall, Jamil Moledina, Michele Maguire, Evelyn Donis, Jennifer Steele, and Meggan Scavio.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio : The single biggest part of my past ten years has been The Games for Health Project. Using videogames to make people healthier??!?!? Yes, it’s possible. The Project, and the Conference, aren’t possible without their support. Sure, hundreds of thousands in funding is part of it, but this also comes with a culture about life, work, and doing right that RWJF has fostered internally and externally among so many it works with that is bar none. My thanks especially to Chinwe Onykere, Susan Promislo, Paul Tarini and the Foundation’s overall all team for their guidance.
Ian Bogost, Noah Falstein, and Larry Holland : Besides field building I’ve also gotten the chance to fullfil my lifelong dream of making games. I’ve had the chance to design and/or produce over two dozen serious game projects in the past ten years. Many of them have involved in one way shape or form these three designer/developers. What I have learned collaborating with them is priceless. And so I wanted to be sure to thank them too.
Today I accept a Dewey Winburne Community Service Award at SxSW, and for just a moment it gave me a reason, and the impetus to make sure I took the time to thank so many who helped me achieve what I’ve achieved. As I said before, accepting an award of this nature is not meant to say job well done. I take it to mean “keep going!”, which I will, but it does feel good to stop for one second and appreciate it, and the people who helped.