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Promoting peace, not violence, in video games

Advanced Micro Devices and Microsoft are among those to show off video games for kids that play up social change.

Computer companies are pushing to swap the violence in video games with messages of social change.

Next week, Advanced Micro Devices plans to announce a project designed to teach kids how to build video games that promote social causes such as fighting poverty or protecting the environment. Called Changing the Game, the project will fund nonprofit organizations that inspire kids with video games, and it will develop curriculum for youth to build their own software for games. Changing the Game is the first initiative funded by the chipmaker's newly formed AMD Foundation, a grant-making organization.

At the same time next week, Microsoft will show off the first of the environmental education games developed by high school and college kids participating in Microsoft's Imagine Cup, a global competition around software for social change. (The Imagine Cup winners will be announced in Paris in July.)

Why the coincidence? The two companies are participating in the fifth annual Games for Change Festival next week at the Parsons The New School for Design. The 4-year-old nonprofit Games for Change gets support for its conference from Microsoft and AMD.

Of course, both companies have a stake in the video game business. AMD's technology powers high-definition game consoles, and Microsoft sells the Xbox 360 and related games. As part of its competition, for example, Microsoft asked students to use the company's XNA Games Studio Software to develop a socially minded computer or Xbox game.

Still, it's for a worthy cause. "We have a tremendous opportunity to harness the passion that kids have for gaming while teaching the skills they need to be successful in our 21st century digital economy," AMD president Dirk Meyer said in a statement.

As part of its initiative, the AMD Foundation plans to grant money to Girlstart, an Austin-based nonprofit focused on girls; Global Kids, a New York-based nonprofit; the D.C.-based Institute for Urban Game Design; and Science Buddies, a Silicon Valley-based group for kids in science.