The 21st century global community faces unprecedented challenges; human-induced climate change, dangerous food and water shortages, widespread poverty, and deadly diseases are realities in today’s complex world.
But game developer Jane McGonigal, who we recently heard as a keynote speaker at the World Innovation Forum, thinks she knows the solution: posing these dilemmas to the world’s enormous gaming community, and using their creativity and ideas to save the planet.
McGonigal, whose work was touted as one of the “Top 20 Breakthrough Ideas” by HBR and the “#1 Bright Idea of the Year” by Brandweek,” is looking far beyond “Halo” and “Farmville.” She has extensively researched the positive benefits of gaming, and specializes in “games that challenge players to tackle real-world problems…through planetary-scale collaboration.”
Here’s why McGonigal thinks gamers are up to the challenge of saving the world:
Gamers are part of an enormous community
At the World Innovation Forum, McGonigal shared that there are now 1 billion people on the planet who play games for at least an hour a day.
She then gave some statistics that spoke to gaming’s striking popularity: “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” grossed $400 million in its first 24 hours on the market, and surpassed $1 billion in sales in two weeks. There have been 1 billion downloads of “Angry Birds,” making it the world’s largest community, and far surpassing the number of Facebook users. Within this group there is incredible diversity, including diversity of ideas.
Gamers collectively log billions of hours playing
Not only are there an enormous number of people playing games, but they are logging a startling number of hours playing. “Angry Birds” alone is played for 300 million minutes a day, and it is estimated that the global community spends a collective 7 billion hours a week playing games.
Why do so many turn to games? McGonigal thinks that people are seeking stimulation and challenge that they are not finding in the workplace, noting that “71 percent of U.S. workers are actively disengaged at their jobs.”
McGonigal believes that posing a real-life challenge to the gaming community and channeling these hours invested into solving the world’s problems could yield tremendous results.
Gamers are creative
McGonigal tells us that a new study has proven that “kids who spend time playing video games are more creative than those who don’t.” This means that problems posed to this group will be met with out-of-the-box thinking.
Gamers are relentless
When engaged in a game, players spend roughly 80 percent of their time failing, said McGonigal. “If you were to spend 80 percent of your life failing, you’d probably give up. But gamers love failure. They volunteer to spend their time failing over and over again.”
This perseverance will be an invaluable asset when addressing the world’s dire issues, as there will be no quick fixes or easy answers.
Gamers have already shown they’re adept at tackling real-world problems
In her presentation, McGonigal referenced the success of FoldIt, an elaborate computer game where players try to determine the structure of a protein. Developed by scientists at the University of Washington, FoldIt was born out of their inability to determine a protein that causes AIDS in rhesus monkeys, a problem that stumped them for over a decade. Scientists then turned to gamers, who solved the problem in just 10 days.
McGonigal insisted that, if presented with real-world problems, the 1 billion gamers on the planet are ready to collaborate with scientists, economists, pathologists, and various experts. However, as she said, “it’s up to us what challenge we want them to tackle next.”