I just finished watching a very provocative TED TALK which I highly recommend. It was about saving the world with games. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dE1DuBesGYM
It is Jane McGonigal talking about how gamers are developing qualities that she believes will give them the skills needed to save the world. She has been designing games that use the same principals as World of Warcraft to deal with different problems in the world.
Now step back and learn a bit about me. I am an aging boomer. I was born in 1955, so I am old enough that my kids were playing Nintendo and I tried it a bit, but was never very successful. I really consider myself a pretty bad game player and so it is not something I have valued much or put much time into. However, for some reason I am good at learning to use the computer, so I have been an early adopter of different educational ways of using technology. Compared to friends in my same generation I am pretty technologically literate, but not in games.
So, I am one of those teachers who sees the value of technology in schools, but is suspicious of those who advocate lots of video game playing. I have watched kids disappear into an imaginary universe for hours and thought that it was a bad thing. This TED talk says that gamers are developing four really important qualities needed to come up with a solution for the big problems our world faces. Jane McGonigal says that “gamers are a human resources that we can use to do real world work, that games are powerful platform for change. We have all these amazing super powers blissful productivity, the ability to weave a tight social fabric, the feeling of urgent optimism, and the desire for epic meaning.” You really need to listen to her talk about it to understand what she means by these four qualities.
Her talk tied into something I have been feeling deeply for many years. Brains are changing. I used to say this and my husband, the professor, laughed at me. Now people are talking about it in many places. However, I have never heard it tied in this way to games and saving the world. It has always bothered me that we are creating these machines that just seem to add to our toxic waste problems and create a need for more energy use, but somehow are important to our future survival as a species.
Maybe this brings all of those things together. Maybe brains are changing and younger generations than I am do not need to be made to stay away from computer games, but instead need to be encouraged to play certain ones to develop qualities that will save us as a species. Jane McGonigal talked about three games that she has designed which pose real world questions. It will be interesting to see if they really do make any difference and are as motivating as World of Warcraft. The games are:
2007 World Without Oil http://www.worldwithoutoil.org/ From this game they came up with lesson plans that a teacher could use in a classroom http://www.worldwithoutoil.org/metateachers.htm
Super Struct Everyone is part of the dream team and constructs a solution to different world problems. http://archive.superstructgame.net/ The game is no longer live, but it has an archive online of about 500 highly creative solutions that the game came up with.
Evoke-http://www.urgentevoke.com/ If you complete this game you will be certified by the World Bank as a Social Innovator class of 2010. Imagine social enterprises to save the world.
One thing she did not talk about at all was what she thinks about having more than one life to live. That happens in video games, but not in real life. It is hard to take the same types of risks when you know you only have one life.