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The DeanBeat: The State Department’s gaming man wants more citizen diplomats

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Josh Shen is one of the few people in the federal government whose job has a lot to do with video games. He is a Foreign Service Officer at the State Department and he surfaced this week as a speaker at the Games for Change online event on Games That Make Social Impact in Our Lives.

You can think of him as a friend of the games industry in Washington, DC.

Previously, our man in Washington was Mark Loura, who worked in the White House during the Obama administration in 2013 and 2014. This week, Shen gave a talk on how governments can help grow the gaming industry. video, and he was not talking about taxation. breaks or hiring overseas gaming companies to create jobs in the United States

He is the strategic designer of interactive media and video games at the Office of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), a branch of the United States Department of State that promotes education, understanding and public diplomacy programs among 2,7 billion players in the world. It’s a big job for one guy.

“It’s a process, and it’s all a series of opportunities where you fill in the gaps,” Shen said in an interview with GamesBeat. “My work started in 2019. It was a whole new assignment, but they were able to identify the need. How many times as a bureaucrat can you be the owner and the sole guru on a subject like this? Many people recognized that we had to be in this space, but they had no idea where to start.

Games for change

Above: Mark Barlet, center, received the Vanguard Award from Games for Change.

Image credit: Typography

Games for Change is the epicenter of discussions about games that have a social impact, and it took place this week, with tons of great speakers who are at the intersection of government, industry, and organizations for purpose. non-profit in the field of gambling.

Susanna Pollack, the organizer of Games for Change, said in an interview that she admires the work the State Department has started to do to foster cross-cultural understanding through games in the Middle East and North Africa. (MENA). Pollack invited Shen to speak to Games for Change, and he moderated a panel on disinformation and games that try to teach people about it, like Harmony Square.

Before we derail with an argument about why the government spends our taxes to promote video games, I have to say that we need more people like him in government. Not because of his politics or anything like that, but because he can be an ambassador for the game as he navigates between cultural divisions and struggles to be understood around the world. And it can help create opportunities for gaming companies outside of the United States as they try to change the world through gaming.

While DeLoura, who won the Ambassador Award at the Game Developers Conference in 2017, focused on national game policy and the organization of games and educational events, Shen also took charge of the aspect. international work on understanding games from a political point of view. One thing that persisted after DeLoura left was the “Federal Gaming Guild,” a collection of people in government who care about gambling issues. Shen is involved in it and wants it to work with private industry.

“What I realized very quickly is that you can’t have any credibility or leadership without recruiting the American private sector,” Shen said. “This includes universities, non-governmental organizations like Games for Change, Global Game Jam and the North American Scholastic Esports Federation. We should not pretend to be the experts. The most effective diplomat in my career is the citizen diplomat if you are looking at the long term.

Citizen diplomats

josh shen The DeanBeat: The State Department's gaming man wants more citizen diplomats

Above: Josh Shen talks about the State Department’s goals for the games.

Image Credit: Games for Change

In an effort to recruit foreigners and countries to support our interests and align with their interests, you can’t do better than US citizens, Shen said.

“It sounds a bit idealistic, and believe me, I’m not a fresh-faced idealistic State Department officer,” Shen said. “I’m pretty cynical on my side. What I am optimistic about are American citizens and their impact on others. “

Shen’s job, therefore, is to enable American game developers to get involved in programs where others can become aware of their work, whether inside or outside the country.

People understand that government institutions and NGOs should have social media accounts. But Shen thinks the same should be true of participating in the gaming ecosystem. Part of getting games is understanding that the world has around 2.7 billion players and that the industry is one. [$175 billion] business, Shen said. Shouldn’t these institutions have Discord or Twitch accounts, Shen asked.

“We haven’t gotten there yet, but we’ll probably get there at some point,” Shen said. “If we’re not here building these relationships, then when do we start building this ecosystem? It’s like social media 12 years ago. The game is where the people are. If you don’t engage with them, you’re going to miss a good chunk of the audience.

Not on tax breaks

Shen does not focus on US internal affairs, such as states giving tax breaks to attract gaming companies. It is not part of the Department of Commerce. And he notes that US game companies have not carved out the game industry like other industries have. Its goal is not to help American companies locate abroad.

Shen observed how other countries have big ambitions to invest in games. Dubai wants to create the biggest esports arena in the world, Bahrain wants to develop an ecosystem of game studios, just like many other countries where video games are an emerging market. Shen can connect paid or volunteer consultants to give presentations to share knowledge so that everyone can “get” video games.

21st century competence

josh shen 3 The DeanBeat: The State Department's gaming man wants more citizen diplomats

Above: Josh Shen is with the Office of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), a branch of the US State Department.

Image Credit: Games for Change

“I think it’s popular to teach every kid how to code for a number of years now,” Shen said. “This is a 21st century core skill. You all need to know how to code. I would say that a certain level of game design is the type of skill everyone needs. One of the things we do at the State Department is nurture higher level skills, whether it’s English, some type of activity in the creative space, or some type coding.

The State Department has programs in place to support this. And Shen believes that learning to design games is one of the skills that can contribute to economically stable, sustainable and peaceful countries. People need to develop their skills, and Shen said, “We are giving them a manual for this so that they can do it on their own. “

If that’s not your usual idea of ​​what the State Department does, Shen is part of the Office of Educational Cultural Affairs, which has flexible programs that support things like Fulbright scholars, athletes, musicians, hip hop artists, journalists and entrepreneurs. This office brings people to the United States to educate Americans and it sends Americans to teach others. Shen said his role was not partisan.

He was at Games for Change, the social impact gaming event, because that’s where he finds a lot of people with great ideas that go beyond purely business and entertainment interests.

“We love triple-A publishers, but we really do a lot more with independent developers who believe games have a social impact,” said Shen. “And that’s what we’re really excited to support.”

Let others speak

never alone The DeanBeat: The State Department's gaming man wants more citizen diplomats

Above: Never Alone has drawn attention to stories of Indigenous peoples.

Image Credit: E-Line Media

The government is not going to create educational games because it lacks the talent, and the government funding process is subject to delays. But it can facilitate connections that can help bring video games to places that are badly needed. He recently asked Alan Gershenfeld, whose E-Line company has created games like Never Alone, to speak with Canadian developers from Indigenous communities in the games. And he organized a visit related to esport entrepreneurship.

“I am making it known that the State Department is interested in this space and there are many ways they can support programs in space to get the word out in our embassies,” Shen said. “Our embassies and consulates are the leaders in our approach to engaging the foreign public.”

Not all topics will be pleasant for business interests, but they are necessary for the world we live in. One of the concerns is teaching others how to use content moderation and the promotion of positive behaviors to deal with the presence of extremism online. in video game communities.

One of the things the new administration cares about is climate change, and the United Nations has a gaming-related program, Playing for the Planet, to raise awareness about it.

“It has a lot of eyeballs,” Shen said.

And so he’s trying to raise awareness of how games can be used to educate people about climate issues. You can think of him as the key man in the game in government, and his understanding of games is crucial at a time when gambling saved our sanity, friendships, and relationships during the pandemic.

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