This is the second in a two part Gaming For Good series. Last week, we discussed the concept of “gamification – adding game mechanics such as points, levels, badges, leader boards, and rewards to everyday activities – and how it can be used by green businesses, non-profits, and social enterprises to create social change.
Gamification isn’t the only way individuals and organizations are turning to gaming to promote positive social change. The number of social impact games has exploded in recent years, driven both by organizations seeking to raise awareness of a certain issue in a fun and memorable way, and by socially conscious game developers themselves.
One reason organizations and individuals are turning to social impact gaming is because of the sheer amount of time spent gaming. The average U.S. gamer spends 13 hours per week gaming, and certain games command even more loyalty. For example, in the first ten weeks after the release of the popular game Halo 2, players logged a total of 91 million hours on the online game. In contrast, it has been estimated that people have spent 100 million hours editing Wikipedia since its founding in 2001. Needless to say, converting even a little of the time spent gaming to the pursuit of social good has the potential to produce amazing results.
As gaming technology has advanced, it has also become increasingly easy to develop games capable of illustrating complex, real world style situations in realistic ways. The degree of complexity that can now be created by game developers has now reached a level where it can be a powerful tool both for education and activism.
One of the most famous examples is the online game Darfur is Dying. Developed by mtvU in association with the Reebok Human Rights Foundation and the International Crisis Group, the game asked players to forage for water and perform other tasks faced by refugees from the Janjaweed militia. The game was played more than 700,000 times in the first month of its release alone, and tens of thousands of players entered the Take Action area of the game that allowed them to learn more about the crisis, send letters and emails to national and international lawmakers, donate to help refugees, and more.
Some game designers even harness the problem solving skills of gamers to help develop new solutions to real world problems. For example, EVOKE, a unique massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), focuses on creating social innovation through gaming and offers players a “crash course in social innovation” as they work through different scenarios to solve the world’s most urgent social problems. Players with the most innovative and creative solutions receive mentoring to help them develop social enterprises based on their ideas!
One organization working to promote social impact games and game development is Games for Change (G4C). Founded in 2004, Games for Change works to encourage game developers and gamers to create and play social impact games that raise awareness of contemporary social issues such as human rights, poverty, or the environment by social impact gaming workshops and conferences, offering strategic guidance and consulting to game developers, individuals, and organizations working to develop social impact games, and collecting other social impact gaming resources and projects in a central location.
For gamers, Games for Change offers a large directory of social impact games by theme. Featured games include Fate of the World, a strategy game based on climate models developed by the University of Oxford that asks players to take a leadership role in tackling various climate-related challenges, Against All Odds, a game based on the challenges faced by global refugees, and The ReDistricting Game, a game teaching students about the US Congressional redistricting process and how it can be manipulated. Another popular directory of social impact games can be found at SocialImpactGames.com.
Main Image Credit: Fate of the World