Playing Games to Change the World

Another TED talk has caught my eye.  I was alive when Pong was invented, and I clearly remember the transition of computer games from stand-up arcades to the home area (I’m giving away my age here, aren’t I?).  I’ve played games for years, though never with the sort of dedication that Jane McGonigal talks about in this talk.  However, I have always been a proponent of using games for educational purposes, and saddened and/or disgusted that educational games are not very good games.

McGonigal takes that same idea – taking a game and having it influence real life – a step further.  Instead of just affecting one person by educating them, she’s looking at using the positive effects of on-line gaming in the real world to affect entire societies.  Cooperation, motivation, confidence, and reward systems in gaming can all be used in the real world to affect how we interact, how we build our culture, manage our economy, etc., etc.

I know this works on an individual basis.  Some years ago I was dating a woman with a son named Chris who had just entered high school.  He was a good kid, very smart but diagnosed with ADHD and had a hard time with his studies.  Somewhere along the way – possibly thanks to my influence – he started playing an on-line MMORPG, a precursor to World of Warcraft.  (I can’t remember which one it was, now – Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call, maybe Everquest – doesn’t really matter.)  Anyway, the point is that part of the game play involved managing resources to cast spells in the game.  You had to have the right number of spell components, different for each spell, and each one cost different amounts to buy.  Keeping track of how much money you had, how much you needed to buy the components, figuring out all the different combinations to make sure you had enough to cast your spells while not filling up your limited storage space, etc. was a continual exercise in mathematics.  In the beginning, Chris had to really think hard about calculating all that stuff, but after a few months of playing, he was doing it in his head very quickly, and his math abilities in school got better as a result.

Will this work on a large scale, as McGonigal suggests?  I’ll let you be the judge – check out some of the games she talks about in her talk, like Evoke, and let me know what you think.


  1. your site displayed a 404 mistake when i posted my older comment,
    not good! :(

    • Ah, the parent server is getting a code upgrade; probably has something to do with that. Did you try posting again?

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