Technology: Games for Good

Knowing my fascination with gaming and technology, how could I leave 2010 without exploring why are so many people are playing games in the virtual world, as now experts are asking other types of questions. Such as why are these virtual worlds more absorbing than school and work? How could these gamers’ time be used to solve real-world quandaries? Why can’t life be more like a game? Edward Castronova, professor of telecommunications at Indiana University, says, “Gamers are engaged, focused, and happy. How many employers wish they could say that about even a tenth of their work force? Many activities in games are not very different from work activities. Look at information on a screen, discern immediate objectives, choose what to click and drag.”

Today a some gaming researchers are interested in understanding why players are so absorbed and focused. They seemed to be achieving the state of ‘flow’ that psychologists use to describe master musicians and champion athletes. However, gamers are reaching ‘flow’ immediately instead of having to train for years. This is because players achieve steady rewards for little achievements as they collect points and progress to next and higher levels, with the challenges becoming harder as their skill increases. Even though they fail repeatedly, they remain motivated to keep going until they succeed, experiencing what game technology researchers call ‘fiero’; the Italian for ‘proud’, describing the moment and feeling when a gamer lifts both arms above their head in triumph.

Here are some games that have created positive behaviour changes in people. Dr McGonigal has created Cruel2BKind, a game where players advance by being nice to strangers in public; it has been played in more than 50 cities on four continents. While, a microvolunteering site called Sparked uses technology as a smartphone app to help out requests for non-for-profit groups like First Aid Corps (whose strapline is 'Mass Collaboration through Technology'), which is compiling a worldwide map of the locations of defibrillators available for cardiac emergencies. The players hunt buildings for defibrillators that haven’t been identified yet and if that defibrillator later on helps save someone’s life, the player’s online glory goes up.

To properly apply gaming technology and techniques to school and work and other institutions, there are certain core principles to keep in mind, says Tom Chatfield, British journalist and author of, ‘Fun Inc.: Why Gaming Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century’ who says, “One of the most profound transformations we can learn from games is how to turn the sense that someone has ‘failed’ into the sense that they ‘haven’t succeeded yet.” Now that’s a positive note to enter 2011 on.

Photo Credit: RocaSalvatella