Video Games: A Surprising Tool for Global Problem Solving

Jul 10, 2018 9:20 AM ET

Cisco Blogs | Corporate Social Responsibility

When you think of a typical gamer, I’m sure you see a teenage boy, sitting alone in the dark and shooting virtual soldiers on a dazzling screen. But video games are changing, and your first impression will likely change as you discover the evolution of an industry; one we can use to make a positive impact on people and the planet we call home.

As technology advances, so do video games and their access around the world. Collectively, the gaming industry is worth over US$100 billion and growing at an 8% rate each year. Its popularity is not just in the United States, though; we’re seeing video game adoption growing faster in Africa, the Middle East, South America, and India.

Gaming is for all

From children to grandparents, anyone can pick up a controller and play. The average gamer is 35 years old, meaning people from all walks of life are discovering the excitement of video games, no matter their age. It’s social, collaborative, and as professional video game leagues become more popular, we’re finding it’s a medium for people to work together and solve common problems. What if we could link this “player power” to solving actual problems? This is where the magic in the virtual world can become a reality in our own.

In her 2011 book Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal wrote that globally, people spent 3 billion hours per week playing video games. Today, that number is 16 billion, which speaks to the growing accessibility and affordability of technology around the world. McGonigal continued her thought, making the point that if we reach 21 billion hours of gameplay per week, we could use that collective brainpower and energy to tackle social problems like obesity, poverty, and climate change.

We are closer than ever to the tipping point, and many companies are already weaving video games into making a positive impact.

From virtual to tangible impact

The makers of Minecraft, for example, have collaborated with UN-Habitat to help revitalize global communities through the Block by Block program. UN-Habitat is using Minecraft not as a game, but as a tool to visualize public spaces and improve the urban design process. The software engages poor communities in urban design and empowers them to develop the cities they call home.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice releases in August and is one of the first video games to address mental illness. The game was developed in collaboration with the health charity Wellcome, neuroscientists at the University of Cambridge, and people suffering from psychosis. “We hope these awards help to provoke and promote even more conversations around mental health,” said Iaian Dodgeon, Wellcome’s strategic ventures manager.

Sea Hero Quest, a mobile video game, tasks players with navigating a small boat through a colorful world. While it feels and plays like any other puzzle game, Sea Hero Quest was actually designed as a tool for dementia research. Developers collect data using artificial intelligence, analyzing the location of the virtual boats to predict areas where players where will get lost or confused. For every minute played, the data collected is equivalent to six hours of traditional research.

The perfect medium

More than their scale and global reach, video games are interactive in ways other mediums are not; they give us the ability to collect valuable data, which can influence and change behavior for the better. Furthermore, they’re creative, making collaboration and problem-solving essential storytelling devices that can inspire gamers to take action in their own lives.

At Playmob, we believe connecting brands to gamers globally can deliver tangible positive impact. We envision gaming for a better world, where organizations like the World Wildlife Foundation, for example, can weave their narrative into games and their communities. To date, we’ve reached more than 140 million gamers and raised more than US$1 million for charity, all by asking players to take actions in the virtual world that make an impact in the real one.

Despite this impact, one pressing issue remains in gaming, which is why I feel it’s essential to spread my story through Women Rock IT. We need more women in the industry, designing and developing the games everyone can play. The industry must recognize the power it has to affect change, and we can only really do that by having a more diverse ecosystem where the best ideas can flourish.

I hope our webinar inspires you to learn more and realize the potential of the gaming space. It is one of the most exciting, fast-growing industries, and one with huge potential. A stronger, more diverse workforce will only help us make an even bigger impact.

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