Playing Videogames To Save The World

We need to start giving games a lot more credit.
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Olga Lexell
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We need to start giving games a lot more credit.

There’s always someone claiming that videogames do more harm than good; that they’re making children violent and glorifying war. But lately, that’s changing.

Last fall, CCP Games, the company behind EVE Online announced a mini game called Project Discovery. The game was a partnership with Reykjavik University that forced EVE Online players to examine images of cells and identify their proteins. Seems pretty basic, right?

But the mini-game didn’t end there. These findings were then mapped on the Human Protein Atlas, a public database that helps researchers understand cell biology. CCP harnessed the power of its massive player base to help scientists in real time.

Okay, that’s one example. But what about games that help us understand others around us? That Dragon, Cancer, which debuted last month and tells the story of the game’s developers who lost their son to cancer. It garnered an emotional response from players, many of whom had been through similar tragedies. But games don’t have to stop at being relatable. They not only help us see stories from the perspectives of others in an immersive, interactive way, but they also make us want to see those perspectives in the first place.

In her TED Talk, game designer Jane McGonigal argued that even games that seem frivolous, like World of Warcraft, teach players how to save the worlds they inhabit – how to be heroes.

"If we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity… I believe that we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week, by the end of the next decade.”

McGonigal goes on to describe how we can use the positive emotions we feel when we do well in a difficult videogame and map them onto the attitudes we take on when we face real-world problems. When we play games, we feel like anything is possible. What makes games so different from reality?