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Saturday, March 06, 2010

A NOTE FROM THE CHAIRMAN: Can Games Change the World?

Now that the Winter Olympics have come and gone, I've begun to wax philosophically about the power of games that either bring people together or drive them apart.

When I look back upon my days in public school, I have some very fond memories...I loved going to school. There was one thing, however, that I dreaded...gym class. Yes...I was never what you would call an "athlete" and was usually one of the last people picked for a team.

Perhaps it was the whole "competitive" thing - I usually had a hard time with the concept of "I win, you lose" or as my business partner, Douglas Castle states "a zero sum" proposition. Of course the concept of competition is nothing new; it's been around for millennia in what Darwin called "survival of the fittest". As (I would like to believe) a more evolved being, I personally find the concept of competition distasteful.

But what about "healthy" competition?

Healthy competition is certainly used in the Olympics - many call it "good sportsmanship" and it can be quite exciting to watch your favorite country or athlete overcome obstacles just to achieve such an honor as winning a medal. Of course, healthy competition is also used to describe what happens in a democracy or democratic-type economic system. In light of recent, economic and political events of the past several years, one has to wonder just how "healthy" competition can be. After all in competition, one person wins while everyone else loses - personally speaking, I don't like the odds.

Fortunately, competition becomes "friendlier" and "healthier" when there is a natural form of reset mechanism, such as an annual competition like the Super Bowl or World Cup. In video and online games, there is even a "reset" button.

But when you are playing a game in which there is no reset button, then you are either playing a game in which eventually either everyone loses or everyone wins. I liken our current global economic crisis in the former of the two, however, I have been taking notice of the various collaborative-type games that do encourage the "win-win".

I remember a few years back, my wife and I took our kids to a families-oriented party with a DJ who played games. He had a very interesting spin on the old musical chairs game, where instead of chairs, he had hula hoops that the kids had to stand in once the music stopped. At first, there was one hoop per child. After each break in the music, however, a few hoops were taken away and the children had to share the remaining hoops until at the end they had to find a way to get everyone into one hoop. When they did, everyone received a prize.

Many social media platforms, including Facebook, are growing in population and popularity through the use of collaborative games, such as Mafia Wars, Farmville and Zoo World. These games, particularly Zoo World (my wife's favorite) rely upon networking and cooperation as a means to grow your zoo, buy better animals, etc. Points are awarded for inviting new players, sending others virtual gifts, collaboratively working to save whales, getting others to act as your zookeepers and more.

I was encouraged after reading an article about Jane McGonigal, a game designer who believes in using games as a tool for encouraging positive behavior and sustainability. Her recent project, an online game known as "Urgent Evoke" aims toward eliminating world poverty by encouraging and empowering its players, in particular, the people of Africa, a continent with some of the world's poorest countries. In the game, players are rewarded for performing real-world tasks (like volunteering) and the winners (it is yet unspecified as to how many) can walk away with scholarships and even start-up money for projects.

Our current economic system is a game that fewer and fewer people are winning. There is no reset button short of corporations and/or the government doing the right thing or a revolution breaking out. Or, of course, perhaps we can all take a cue, and perhaps even some inspiration from Ms. McGonigal and the other collaborative-based games we play for "fun".

Everyone deserves a chance to play a game that can be won.

All my best,



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1 comment:

Sandy McKee said...

YES, YES, a thousand times YES: games can change the world---for better or for worse. I advocate for the former, naturally. Thanks for a great article.

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