Game Changers

Between climate change, starvation, disease, and a myriad of other issues we might just be screwed. Why isn't every person doing everything they possibly can to help our ailing planet? The reality of things getting crappier the less we care doesn't seem to be motivating anyone. Dr. Michael Wu, principal scientific analyst for Lithium, explains, "a positive feedback mechanism is always more successful than any negative reinforcement as people are more willing to continuously carry out a series of behaviors for a positive outcome. A punishment for not completing the action will typically cause the player to disengage entirely" [1]. It's been proven that a negative feedback loop isn't nearly as effective as a positive one, but how do we create a society that rewards good behavior if no one's watching? There's the problem. And gaming might just be the answer.

The structure of a game is based on positive re-inforcement; the better you do, the more points you earn, the more likely you are to win. And you always believe you can win. It's this optimism paired with the innate determination of gamers that gives them a good chance at tackling huge problems [2].

In Jane Mcgonigal's talk on the subject of gamers creating a better world, she states that we already have the resources to make real change. There are over 10 million subscibers to World of Warcraft (the ever popular online game) alone [3]. If you are a regular gamer chances are you've already amassed 10,000 hours of gaming time before the age of 21. And if you have ever read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (and if you haven't, you really should), you know that this is the precise figure given for the amount of dedicated time it takes to become an expert in anything.

[Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world]

So what do we do with these expert gamers? One example of a great application is the University of Washington's revolutionary game, Foldit. The game was created in an attempt to further research on protein folding where "players can design brand new proteins that could help prevent or treat important diseases" [4]. Gamers have been so vastly superior at solving these protein puzzles that it took a team of gamers only 10 days to solve a problem that scientists (AND their sophisticated computers) have been grappling with for over a 10 years. When the science is taken out of the equation and all you have left is game vs gamer, there is no doubt in that gamer's mind that they can win. With their efforts, scientists have come closer than ever before to a cure for AIDS.

What about the rest of us non-gamers? Gaming is creeping up on you even if you don't notice it. I bet you're already using a points or rewards system of some kind, just look in your wallet. Jesse Schell explains, in his talk about how gaming is invading real life, that with the rate of new technology being created and cheaper manufacturing that it's only a matter of time before our whole lives are set by the gaming model. He envisions a future where everything is connected via wifi and that every positive action (walking instead of driving, volunteering, brushing your teeth...etc) is met with reward points and positive re-inforcement. He argues that this transparency of actions will create a more responsible society; the more points you have the better you are...literally.

So you're excited about this gaming model and want to save the world, what next? Turns out there's a game that can help you (surprise, surprise). Code Hero by Alex Peake, and latest addition to Kickstarter, promises to teach you how to code games by shooting a code gun loaded with Javascript.

So what are we waiting for? Turning environmental, social and economical problems into a game may sound a little too simplistic, but it might just be the hero idea we were looking for.

[Jesse Schell: When games invade real life] 


[1] The Science And Psychology of Gaming

[2] World of Warcraft Wiki

[3] Gaming Can Make a Better World

[4] Foldit Portal