Can Gaming Save the World?

// Posted by on 04/02/2012 (12:00 AM)

So for my post today I thought I would engage with the idea that we left class talking about. . .can gaming have positive societal effects?

I have to admit that my initial reaction was skepticism. When most gamers are busy playing games like Halo or Call of Duty, which often receive criticism for promoting violence and rendering a generation lazy and disengaged, its hard to see the benevolent qualities.

After reading I Love Bees and listening to Jane Mcgonigals TED talk, I started to become a little more persuaded. I could see how games could help to develop collective intelligence and how through the enlightened games that Jane was working to create, that collective intelligence could be harnessed for the greater good. But I was still caught up on the fact that those games “the games for the greater good” weren’t the type of games that most people were playing.

So I decided to look into it and it turns out there are a lot more than I previously thought.  In an article titled, Can Games Save the World, author Steven Faris reviews a few games with potential. According to Faris, in games where there is international content, there has been a push for the game to abide by international law in order to promote awareness as well as understanding for what international law entails. In addition, there are games such as Darfur is Dying, a game created by MTV to promote awareness of the genocide in Darfur. 700,000 people played the game and a few thousand players transformed their gaming into real world action by writing letters to the White House of their Congressmen.

Then there is the website Games For Change which was founded by New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof. According to the website the purpose of games for change is “Catalyzing Social Impact Through Digital Games”. On the website you can play games, read books, connect with others, all in the spirit of fighting global poverty. Games for Change even has a pdf on its website about how and why to make meaningful games.  Nicholas Kristof has a reputation for being ahead of the curve when it comes to journalists who use social media. In 2003 he became the first blogger for the New York Times, and today he regularly uses twitter and facebook spread the news. Follow Kristof on Facebook! In a recent interview he said ““Some people think games are just ‘what teenagers do’ or that they are too fun to be worthy of our attention. But there are a lot of people who spend a lot of time playing games online, so we in the news business would do well to think about how we can use games to attract eyeballs.” In the traditional news outlets, Kristof feels as though he is preaching to the choir and only reaching those who already care about global poverty, but through games, he is believes he can reach a much broader audience.

Even the Sims is getting into the trend. A recent press release announced that the new version of the Sims, Simcity 5, will “allow players to imagine the world around them in different ways”. Changes will include things like “if you put a lot of polluting power plants near your borders, your friends might start to get some smoke rolling into their suburbs. You might even start to contribute to global CO2 levels”.

Additionally, Call of Duty creators have used the game to promote community service in their charity event called Call of the Community. In the event, which they are now hosting their second one of this year, anyone and everyone is invited to create teams to participate in a live stream tournament which helps to raise funds for Thirst Relief International.

In retrospect (and after a little more research) I think I was being narrow minded in my initial reaction. I was looking at what I saw as the current gaming landscape and not the potential for gaming in the future.

The designers of I love bees built constellation prizes into the game, which meant that they anticipated that at some point the gamers would fail. But they didn’t. I love bees demonstrated that it is possible for groups of individuals to use technology to collaborate in ways that we previously thought was impossible.  The only catch is, if they care about it. If game designers can find a way to motivate people to care about important “real world” issues, then the potential for gaming seems also limitless.

In her TED Talk Jane Mcgonigal is quotes as saying “My goal for the next decade is to try to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online games.” As a society we’ve already demonstrated through games like Cow Clicker, FarmVille, Sims, and Halo, that we love games. Now not only are game designers becoming philanthropists but philanthropists are becoming game designers. The world may never be a perfect place but I think that gaming may turn out to be a step along the way to fixing it.

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Cameron said...

Renee, I think you have pinpointed the crux of the situation: that while gaming is very popular, the popular gaming is not the type that will change the world.

Jane McGonigal’s quote in the last paragraph of your post is optimistic and I hope that she can be successful in her mission. Gaming is extremely popular, but there simply are not enough beneficial games, that are widespread enough, and fun enough to play for games right now to change the world.

I believe that there are two major shifts that must occur for gaming to be able to change the world. The first is that game companies must create more games that can benefit society. But more than simply making these games, they must advertise these and treat them as equals, if not superiors, to games such as Halo, World of Warcraft, and the Sims.

This leads me to my second point, that gamers must grab on to these games and actually play them. I believe that if game makers can create these games and publicize them to the whole gaming community and beyond, that they could be successful; however, I do not believe what they are currently doing is successful because only a few thousand out of millions of gamers are playing these games.

If the game companies make more and publicize better, I believe that the gamers will be more likely to enjoy and actually play these games and then, games could change the world.

// 04/03/2012 at 12:25 am