“I just got off the red eye from Tokyo so if I stumble, you’ll know why.” These were the first words from Al Gore at his Keynote presentation for the 2011 Games for Change conference, after a warm and loud round of applause from a group of about 800 attendees gathered at NYU’s Skirball Center in Washington Village. Gore was perhaps a perfect keynote to kick off the event, centered around using game-play to spur social change in many contexts, not only because he had cool things to plug – his new “Our World” app/e-book, and Keith Olbermann’s move to his TV channel Current – but because he understood and espoused a basic camaraderie that most at the conference shared: “games have clearly arrived as a mass medium.”

“What we are seeing now in game design is art” Gore spoke, using a lot of his personal experience working on his app as a jumping off point. But the main thrust of his appeal to the varied crowd of younger and more mature tech heads, designers and all around “game geeks,” was the potential of games in their playfulness to send the message home for change on vital issues: “Farmvilles for policy” he said, referencing the wildly popular social farm management game.

“Game patterns are becoming ubiquitous in our culture [and because of technologies like mobile phones] every spare fifteen minute counts.” The “gamefication” of culture was one of the big trending discussions at the first day of the 2011 Games for Change conference not only in Gore’s talk but in discussions and presentations throughout the day. In the energy of those gathered there was a drive to use game play as a starting point for important conversations from the US economy, to community organizing in developing countries.

At the end of his prepared remarks Gore took some time to answer some pre-selected questions submitted previously online by conference attendees and he of course took the opportunity to make a case for his most passionate work: his attempt to spur deeper action on the climate change issue, albeit from a slightly different angle than usual.

“The empowerment of girls and women is one of the most important strategies for solving the climate change crisis.”

On the surface some in the room did wonder the connection, but it became solidly clear in seconds. “We’re 7 billion people living in a world that used to hold about 1.9 billion,” Gore said, with all the cultural stagnation and technological evolution that goes with that. So population control, as it pertains to educating young girls and empowering women globally with choice is a very potent tool for fighting climate change. A salient point that cannot be belabored, even within the sea of regurgitated conversations on abortion and birth control.

Gore’s presence gave a spark of “rock star” to the conference kick-off, but much was shared and discussed throughout the day which lived up to that spark. You can check out more from the conference here as I blog about my “moments of geek” in the next few days. Or you may check out the newly revamped Games for Change website here.