Could a video game mean the difference between life and death the next time the planet decides to violently erupt near a heavily populated area? That's the question Geeks Without Bounds plans to answer with GameSave, a five week long hack-a-thon event aimed at creating the ultimate disaster relief video game.
Video game website Gameranx's lead editor Annie Dennisdóttir Wright and Willow Brugh of Geeks Without Bounds, a not-for-profit organization of hackers and coders dedicated to supporting communities in need, came up with the idea for GameSave during a conversation about famed game developer and author Jane McGonical.
"We were intrigued by the idea of games being used for good, and practical, sustainable applications," Wright says. "Most recently, [McGonical] has talked quite extensively about the research that's being done with games as potential means of therapy or education or, basically, just the idea that they're not all mindless entertainment. Not that there's anything wrong with mindless entertainment, of course — sometimes we need to just blow up a zombie — but specifically that there's an untapped potential there, a learning mechanism that is more effective than a traditional classroom setting."
Drawing inspiration from Japan's earthquake disaster earlier this year, the pair decided to come up with a video game that acted as a disaster preparedness program. At first the plan was for a single team to tackle the task. The collaborative GameSave event spawned from the realization that competition is a wonderful thing, especially among the hacking and coding community. Why only take a single shot at excellence?
Teams of game programmers, hackers, coders, and geeks in general will converge in Seattle, Washington in late June to spend five weeks developing a concept and building a demo of their disaster relief efforts. Teams can build for any gaming platform they prefer. An awards ceremony will honor the best ideas in San Francisco, California in mid-July.
It's a tight timetable and short notice, but Wright and Brugh believe even limited efforts can help.
"We know something this complicated can't be built in a few weeks," Brugh says. "I can say what I want the end product to do and Annie can say what it might look like at a basic level, but even the research to build the demos will consolidate a lot of disparate information that volunteers spend hours gathering when people are, you know, dying. If it's playable, it means players have a better understanding of process and surroundings and awareness of needs and a time frame, etc. If it's interactive with live data, it actually helps first responders, and people know they're doing something to help and, ideally, if it's developed enough ... you can train emergency management people and first responders who are actually on the ground."
If successful, the duo plan on applying the GameSave model of competitive design to other pressing problems. And who knows? If video games can save a life, maybe one day they can save the world.