Video Games Can Save The Planet, But Only If We Play More

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Only video games can save the world, says Jane McGonigal, but only if we dedicate more time to playing them, some 21 billion hours of game time per week needed to survive the next century.


McGonigal, director of game research and development at Institute for the Future and one of the people behind the do-good game Urgent Evoke. presented her theory that playing video games can save the world's problems—hunger, poverty, climate change, obesity, global conflict—at this year's TED conference. (That stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design by the way.)

Her argument? We're "better at games than we are in real life," and are more inclined to do good in video games. She could also make the argument that we're pretty good at problem solving in real life too, as the "I Love Bees" ARG that McGonigal worked on might help prove.

McGonigal defines her version of virtually good as "Good as in motivated to do something that matters. Inspired to collaborate and cooperate." She uses World of Warcraft examples heavily in her TED talk, noting that players have spent "5.93 million years solving the virtual problems of Azeroth."

"When we're in game worlds, I believe that many of us become the best version of ourselves," McGonigal argued at TED, "the most likely to help at a moments notice, the most likely to stick with a problem as long as it takes, to get up after failure and try again."

She says video game players are "willing to trust each other on a world-saving mission," and stresses that "there's no unemployment in World of Warcraft, there's no sitting around and wringing your hands." (She must have raided with some very efficient groups.) But how are games like World of Warcraft helping us? McGonigal says "we're evolving to be a more collaborative species" through massively multiplayer online games like this, that video gamers are "an unprecedented human resource."


She says those types of gamers have "extreme self motivation," "the desire to act immediately and tackle an obstacle" and always believe that an "epic win" is possible.

"We have to make the real world more like a game," McGonigal says, not the first time we've heard that kind of talk.


Look, we could pull another 50 interesting quotes out of McGonigal's TED session—there are some fascinating ideas in here—but you're better off watching the whole thing in video form. We all might be better off for it.


Click to view

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world [ - Image Credit]



While I might agree on some points, I can't help but feel it just wouldn't work. Work, trials, quests, whatever, they need to come with the other side, "reward" to be worthwhile.

You could set up all the "Quests" you want, but no matter what, there will always be more tasks that offer little to no reward, compared to the ones that you benefit from. No amount of the feeling of success from completing a difficult or tedious task will overcome getting nothing in return. It's life; it's just not fair.

That's why we play video games, the return is consistent in one from or another and the odds are usually on our side.

That's probably why I nearly failed junior High School; I was told to do a bunch of work, which I inexplicably failed at, and even if I did it right, I'd end up getting more work which I wouldn't use/am not using in the career I wanted and am in now.

I must admit though, if I was offered a lesser vorpal sword and 50 gold in return for the harrowing task of designing my next clients corporate identity video, brochures, website and whatever else, I'd be all on that like a fat kid on a cake.

Mmm, cake.