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Game Genius: Then & Now



In 2017, Game Genius started as a personal exploration project. The thesis was that games and play could catalyze social action and community collaboration. Without a particular audience, we openly engaged with the Greater Washington DC region for 3 years to identify the sharpest painpoints and needs. From supporting local organizations through public events to facilitating game-learning workshops, Game Genius built relationships across the district and promoted the importance of play.


As Game Genius evolved, we tried to balance our work with the corporate sector, but our approach didn't resonate as well with business leaders and HR professionals. It was a great learning experience, and our efforts led to a spin-off company (Barometer XP) with some local organizational consultants. By 2019, Game Genius acknowledged that it could make the biggest difference in the social sector.


Then COVID-19 hit, and our purpose became crystal clear. We already knew local nonprofits were swimming against a pretty strong current -- teams often overworked and underpaid for critical services. To make matters worse, securing grants in this philanthropic ecosystem is a time-consuming challenge. The DMV area has a very high concentration of nonprofits competing for financial support, and organizations instinctively protect their funder relationships because they cannot afford to lose them. Unfortunately, this continues to create barriers for open collaboration and resource sharing, despite being groups that are working to solve the same issues. Game Genius saw an opportunity to help nonprofits find ways to play and grow together.


For much of 2020, we focused on building trust (virtually) in the community by serving nonprofits as extra capacity to complete creative projects. Organizations simply didn't have the time or energy to think beyond the survival minimum. As a result, Game Genius saw a spike in awareness and interest. Our direct service projects ranged from short brainstorms and gamification consults to weeks (or months) of program planning. We even saw an increase of participation in our own public game events. The District Hunt, an annual puzzle adventure around DC, took shape around being a case study for nonprofits to learn from.


As 2020 came to a close, our team had a strategic planning meeting about relaunching Game Genius as a nonprofit. With a better understanding of the region and desire to lead by example, we submitted our paperwork in March to start the next chapter of this playful adventure.