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The Anti-Defamation League hosted its first game jam

Being An Ally Jam brought together developers from all around the world

Four friends, and their magical cat, sit together on the loading screen for Ali Tale, a game jam game created for an Anti-Defamation League contest. William Chia, Mario Gutierrez, Aaron Hill, Courtney Huynh, Akshay Mittal, Latif Masud, Sarathi Sathasivan, and David Zhu

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in partnership with the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE), recently held its first game jam, called Being An Ally Jam. The week-long event brought together 20 teams of developers from around the world. The goal was to create a game that embodied the themes promoted by the ADL’s anti-bias curriculum.

The jam was held in person at three sites around the United States — Austin, Texas, New York City and Oakland, California — and virtually online. More than 20 games were created. The winning entry, called Ali Tale, tells the story of a young girl named Ali who stumbles across a mystical cat that enables her to understand people better. With the cat’s help, she is better able to support her friends and help stop bullying online and in person.

Daniel Kelley, the ADL’s assistant director of the Center for Technology and Society, told Polygon that the jam kicked off with a session of anti-bias training, delivered to each team by ADL employees. Games were scored based on their ability to convey any two of the following core messages:

Supporting targets, whether you know them or not. Show compassion and encouragement to those who are the targets of hate, bias or bigotry by asking if they’re okay, going with them to get help and letting them know you are there for them. Ask what else you can do and make sure they know they’re not alone.

Not participating. This is a really easy way to be an ally because it doesn’t require you to actually do anything, just to not do certain things—like laugh, stare or cheer for the bad behavior. By refusing to join in when name-calling and bullying occur, you are sending a message that the behavior is not funny and you are not okay with treating people that way. The next step is to speak up and try to put a stop to the hurtful behavior.

Telling aggressors to stop. If it feels safe, stand tall and tell the person behaving badly to cut it out. You can let them know you don’t approve on the spot or later during a private moment. Whenever you do it, letting aggressors know how hurtful what they’ve done is may cause them to think twice before picking on someone again.

Informing a trusted authority figure. Sometimes you may need extra help. It’s important to tell an authority figure who you trust so that this person can be an ally to you as well as the target.

Getting to know people instead of judging them. Appreciate people for who they are and don’t judge them based on their appearance. You may even find that they’re not so different from you after all.

Being an ally online. Bullying happens online too. Looking at mean web content and forwarding hurtful messages is just like laughing at someone or spreading rumors in person. It is just as hurtful, even if you can’t see the other person’s face. All the rules above are just as important to follow when texting or on social media. So online and offline—do your part to be an ally to others.

Other criteria included that none of the games could include physical confrontation, cliches or stereotypes.

“We were a little concerned that we would get a lot of Nazi-punching games,” Kelley said. “That’s not what we wanted. ... Everyone who saw [our rubric] was like, ‘OK. That’s a challenge.’”

The winning team was awarded a $2,500 prize, a membership in the International Game Developers Association and the promise of mentorship hours with developer Margaret Wallace, the CEO of Playmatics.

“As someone who has worked in games for a long time,” Wallace told Polygon, “it has become strikingly apparent to me how much games touch our lives in so many ways and have done so throughout much of human history. ... I was really impressed that the ADL identified games as one important means to foster dialogue and encourage positive cultural transformation among allies. ... I was honored to be invited by the ADL to participate and hope to see much more of this kind of collaboration moving forward.”

The event was held in part to promote the Center for Technology and Society, which is a new digital initiative by the ADL to be based in Silicon Valley.

“The ADL’s mission,” said Kelley, “is the stop the defamation of the Jewish people and ensure justice and fair treatment for all. And the Center for Technology and Society is asking how can we ensure justice and fair treatment for all in a digital environment.”

Kelley says that while the ADL has been working on these issues since 1985, the Center is a formalized push take a bigger role in the digital space. He said that they are already engaged with social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to dig into issues of hate online, and are developing new initiatives.

“Last year we had a task force that looked at the harassment of journalists during the election and looked at Jewish journalists who are being harassed on Twitter,” Kelley said. “We’re working at machine learning and AI approaches to the problem of hate online. We’re looking at how data science can play a role in elevating our work on hate crimes data collection. So we’re doing a whole variety of new initiatives and will focus on the idea of civil rights and technology, and gaming is just a small part of that.”

You can find a curated selection of the jam entries at Game Jolt.

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