How video games can change the world

Three billion hours a week are spent playing video games. Time well spent? Games for Change thinks so. The company designs games that have some kind of real-world relevance, and modern technology gives them an interesting potential.

Imagine a game that allowed you to be the US Secretary of State, or the Palestinian or Israeli leaders negotiating a peace accord in the Middle East. Gaming could have quite big repercussions. Then imagine that the participation and decisions of users across the planet influenced your gameplay until it was virtually realistic. Cool huh? That’s the sort of thing that game studios are working on.

Now I learned a lot from video games. Call of Duty taught me to tell the difference between an M21 and M60 from half a mile and I could list a good dozen weapons from World War Two. Sonic the Hedgehog taught me that jumping on spikes was a bad idea. But I’ve never played anything quite so realistic as the sort of stuff that Games for Change makes.

Another great idea from designer Ken Eklund was for a game that took the issue of global over-reliance on oil one step further, creating a scenario that imagined World Without Oil. “The actual spirit of the game, from the players’ point of view, is they said ‘we are creating something which the government should pay attention to’,” he told the BBC. “As a matter of fact, the government did. The federal [US] government was very interested, especially the people responsible for disaster response. The players are proud of what they have created as a narrative.”

Bottom line: perhaps there’s hope yet for square-eyed screen-tappers like me

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