Internet Games Can Help The World!

A photo of Jane McGonigal taken during one of her presentations
I watched the video entitled Gaming (meaning on-line gaming) Can Make A Better World? Presented by Jane McGonigal (as referenced in the thru-the-portal Vol 2) from The Institute for the Future. The numbers she cites if correct are quite jaw dropping.

Her contention in the presentation is that, as a game designer, she would like to make it “as easy to save the world in real life as it is in on-line games” and she goes on to describe how in the virtual world, heroic or epic adventures are undertaken all the time; posing the question “so what would happen if
you could get the same gaming community to undertake epic adventures in the real world?”

Jane suggests that we spend 3 billion hours a week playing on-line games and 5.93 millions years have so far been spent playing World of Warcraft and solving the challenges therein. The average gamer in a country with a strong gaming culture will, by the age of 21, have spent 10,000 hours gaming which, a researcher at the Carnegie Mellon University compares with children in the US who will spend 10,080 hours in education between the 5th grade and High School graduation, if they have perfect attendance!

Put another way 500 million gamers play online at least 1 hour a day which they expect to rise to 1 billion gamers in the next decade. Coming back to the World of Warcraft the average player spends 22.5 hours gaming a week and so (perhaps not surprisingly given these numbers) the second biggest Wiki, after Wikipedia, is that used by players of World of Warcraft with 80,000 articles and 5m people using it every month.

These gamers come to believe in the possibility of changing the world; they take on epic challenges, collaborate and build trust - the only problem is that they are seeking to change virtual worlds.

As she says; If we were spending 21 billion hours playing games trying to solve the problems facing the real world by envisaging epic wins could we change the real world for the better?

Jane sites three research projects that have experimented with games around this idea:
  • World without Oil - A game designed to put players in a world based on ours but where the oil had run out. This game started in 2007 with 1,700 players most of whom remain involved in the game. 
  • SuperStruct - played by 8,000 gamers for 5 weeks in 2008; the players were asked to look into the future and consider what 2019 might look like. They came up with 500 unbelievably creative ideas. 
  • EVOKE - created by the World Bank Institute. The game run in the early part of 2010 was set in 2020 and followed a mysterious network of Africa’s best problem solvers. Those players that completed 10 online missions received the distinction “World Bank Institute Social Innovator – Class 2010”. 
These research projects seem to suggest that if you create an epic adventure based around our real world then people are more likely to immerse themselves in the story, whereas when they are faced with mundane real world situations in online games they do not engage with the game.

When you think that last week Facebook announced it had reached 500m users and that a third of the UK population is now a Facebook user it is clear that the internet’s impact touches everyone directly or indirectly, enabling us to communicate and interact in ways previously not possible. Maybe Jane has a point and maybe Internet Games can help make a better world?

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