Can Video Games Change the World?

Once purely a form of entertainment, video games are now being used to explore solutions and educate the public on some of the world most challenging social issues. While many social issues are not new to the public video games offer an excellent tool for getting people engaged and thinking about the future.

What’s Changing?

One of the fastest growing industries in the world is video games, or interactive entertainment as it is more formally known, forecast to grow at close to 17% over the next two years, to a total global spend of close to $82 billion USD by 2017. Much of the industry’s growth is in mobile gaming (as opposed to console games which require dedicated equipment) using a mobile phone or the internet on a computer.  Every day over 30 million people play Angry Birds, and each week over three billion hours are spent playing video games.

While starting in the realms of entertainment- games have moved into education and more recently into areas of social change. (See previous trend alert – Gaming Gets Serious)  Can world hunger be solved through a video game- maybe?  Catalysts for Change funded by the Rockefeller Foundation was a game designed to explore solutions to hunger.  What about empowering women in developing countries- yes there’s a game for that –  Half the Sky- based on the best- selling book by the same name.

There are games to explore a variety of global issues- hunger, poverty, war, the challenges of climate change, child labour, farming, sustainability, corporate behaviour and politics.  For a good list of games covering these and other topics seePurposefulgames.info. It is estimated over 300 million people, of all ages and demographics play social change themed video games in any given month, with this number growing. There is even an annual conference, the Games for Change Festival, held every year.

Virtual and real world combinations are not uncommon- after educating the player about the real world issue- donations, community organisations or volunteering opportunities are presented to the player to help them take action in the real world.   Play2Plant is just one example linking the playing of a video game with planting a tree in the real world.

Sourcing money from the public through crowd funding has proven successful as a way to fund the development of video games.  Popular crowd funding site Kickstarter.com has raised millions of dollars to fund new games leading to the recent establishment of Gambitious.com, a site dedicated to the funding of video games from the public.

An opportunity to change the way government service are delivered is later this month with a game about the future of citizenship January 22-23 at Connected-Citizens.org.

 Why is it Important?

Many of the world’s social problems are large, complex and interconnected.  Games can educate, build empathy, generate insights, and allow individuals to simulate what it might be like to experience some of these issues first hand.

Games allow for many people to participate in a simulation, reacting to suggestions, solutions and movements of other players.  Research into the effects of video games on players show positive results for learning, problem solving, retention, and building empathy with longer term impacts than reading about an issue or watching a video.  (See previous Trend Alert Games without Frontiers)

Ordinary people are able to participate and experience issues and problems once the domain of experts and aid workers. Options or ideas- generating games focus on finding and exploring solutions that might work in the real-world.   In a 24-hour game focused on the theme of the hospital of the future, Institute for the Future gathered over 4,500 ideas from participants around the world.

Use of games for social change is only emerging, there is great potential in using this tool to educate, change minds, and change behaviour.  As gaming technology gets more sophisticated so to do the options for users to experience and learn.

By Elizabeth Rudd

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