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Business - Written by on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 11:43 - 1 Comment

Games for Good: The Role Games May Play in Determining Our Future

With 55% of US gamers being married, and the average age of new gamers at 32 years old, the stereotypical gamer profile of that young, socially awkward male no longer holds true. Alex St. John, co-founder and CEO of the global games network WildTangent noted, “We make as much money selling casual games to young boys as to Mom.” As gamer demographics undergo this transformation and casual gaming becomes mainstream, new opportunities are created for enterprises and non-profits to harness the collaborative and engaging nature of games. Many enterprises already recognize that games are an excellent way to create engaging marketing that consumers enjoy, but whether games can be used to effectively solve society’s problems is less clear.

The first extreme-scale collaborative game created to tackle the world’s problems was the ARG (Alternate Reality Game) World Without Oil. Created by the non-profit public media company ITVS, this ARG explored a world where oil demand had outstripped supply by 5%, and it challenged the ‘citizens’ of that world to cope. If you’re interested in learning more about it, check out Anthony D. Williams’ great post about World Without Oil and the idea that games could be part of the solution to the climate change crisis.The game that I want to discuss is Superstruct, a massively multiplayer game aimed at forecasting the world in 2019 and finding the strategies that humans can use to stop the impending extinction of the human race. Five ‘superthreats’ were created by the game developers: a massive food shortage, pandemic disease, fast depleting energy resources, the erosion of civil rights, and a refugee epidemic. The game engaged more than 8000 players who together created the scenarios of the future. During the course of the game, one player addressed an urban food shortage by creating the idea of a virtual community that rural famers used to share farming information and tips for dealing with the difficult conditions. These rural farmers then brought their produce to be sold in the old, now closed down urban supermarkets that were once supplied by large, commercial farmers. Many players created such scenarios that were small steps toward a solution to the impending disasters they faced.

At the end of April, the Institute for the Future (IFTF) released their initial results from analysis of the game scenarios, and they plan to soon release “Superstruct Strategies” – 7 actionable strategies that emerged during analysis of the game. In their initial findings, the IFTF outlined three scenarios that for the future that emerged:

  • The Long Crisis plots a path of slow response, resistance to change, and attempts to maintain current power relationships.
  • Emergence follows a course of rapid adaptation from the bottom up, without much unifying direction.
  • The Great Transition envisions a world re-made by technology, a challenge to the planetary dominance of humans as a species.

The three scenarios and 50 year forecast released by the IFTF are interesting, but seem quite extreme. The difficulty of using games to develop solutions to real world problems is that the problems are real and the games are not. Therefore, many scenarios that arise in games such as Superstruct that are more extreme than what the world will likely experience. However, the same characteristic that makes these games difficult to apply to the real world, allows people to freely express their thoughts and ideas. These games create an alternate reality that is a safe, creative environment, and isn’t that what every brainstorming session strives to achieve – a safe environment where ideas, no matter how outlandish, are considered? As we age, it becomes increasingly difficult to tap into that creativity we once had as children, and ‘thinking outside the box’ becomes highly valuable. These types of games can engage and encourage creative brainstorming from thousands of people around the world, and therein lies their value. The issues that the human race will face in coming years cannot possibly be solved by a few; only the intelligence of many minds working together will be able to provide solutions. The questions is whether games will be a conduit for that collaboration. I will be very interested to see the actionable strategies created by the IFTF from the game Superstruct. What I wonder is, will they be strategies that are unrealistic for today’s world, strategies that we have already thought of, or strategies that are extremely valuable?

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Web Media Daily – Tues. June 30, 2009 | Reinventing Yourself...
Jun 30, 2009 11:55

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