The lady’s name is Jane McGonigal, and I’d be surprised if you’ve heard of her and you’re not a gamer. For geeks like me though, she’s kind of a big deal, and not just because she’s easy on the eyes.
She has this wonderful, nutty, goofy, strangely compelling idea that she talks about at length in a TED Talk, that gamers can change the world if given the opportunity (that, and other assorted videos about her and her remarkable ideas can be found here).
Even better, she’s actually started proving it with some of her own experiments, and she’s gathered together some pretty compelling evidence to support her position. The example she cites in her TED talk is especially exciting.
It involves a game called Foldit. It seems these guys have made a game of folding proteins (which, for me, is proof positive that you can make a game out of damn near anything). Anyway, in Foldit’s case, a group of AIDS researchers had been working on a particularly vexing problem for more than a decade with little success.
One of them (mostly in desperation, I would imagine) decided to upload the paramaters of the problem to foldit just to see what would happen.
Something remarkable occured.
Inside of ten days, they had their solution.
The gaming community came together, smart, dedicated guys and gals from all over the world, and they collaborated on finding a solution.
It worked, and if it can work in that setting, it can work in other places and contexts too.
Jane thinks so, and I happen to agree, and even better, there have been other recent experiments in that direction, including this one by IBM, lest you think this is all pie-in-the-sky hippie dreamer stuff.
I would actually take Jane’s basic idea one step further though. Rather than using games to inform us of solutions to big, globe spanning problems, I see the game as a critical part OF the solution, and there are at least some very early examples of this kind of thinking in the real world today (see this game, for example, where your playing translates directly into goods and services delivered to a small African village).
This is a topic I plan to blog about in a great deal more detail in coming months, as it is an issue near and dear to my heart, but it’s also something almost entirely new, and I’m still gathering my research on the subject.
The last thing I want to do is to rush in and give you an incomplete picture. When I publish my outline on the topic, I want it to be a) fairly complete and b) paint a compelling picture of how gaming could serve as not just a signpost, pointing the way toward solutions to various global problems, but an integral part of the solution.
Request from the Author: Dear readers, if you know of any games that fit into the category described here, please leave me a comment below and let me know what and where they are (provide a link if you have one). I’d love to get a catalog of these experiments together to track their development!