Glitchers: How video games can save the world

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Max Scott-Slade has over ten years experience within the games industry, during which he has launched a number of successful game IPs. In 2013, he co-founded award-winning London-based studio Glitchers, where he currently resides as game design director.

Yes, it’s a bold statement but one that I stand by – video games can in fact save the world. All of us are no doubt aware of how much more our industry is worth than TV or movies, but it’s the other kind of value of our audience that interests me most, their engagement.

On one hand, what I’m referring to is players’ love of the products and how vocal they can be in giving the feedback that ultimately shapes them. While not unique to games, this is more pervasive than any other medium. On the other hand, I’m talking about the defining aspect of what makes a game a game – the audience in a new world created for them to explore and become immersed in. Every change in direction, button-push and small decision in that world displays a wealth of information about how people themselves work, which in turn can feed into processes that can have far-reaching implications.

We’ve seen player power feeding in to these processes, such as with the Folding@home project, now shuttered after a successful five year run in which 100m hours of player time was donated. Yet while this made massive contributions to the power Stanford needed to fold proteins, it was just power that was given by the players, nothing more.

What we now have the power to do is examine every move a player makes to determine how they respond to certain situations. Depending on how a game’s data is used, it can teach us incredible things about how the brain works, human behavioural psychology, reaction speed, hand-eye coordination and loads more. With this information we could prevent accidents, cure diseases, or at the very least improve day-to-day life for millions of people around the world.

"Imagine if every game out there was designed with some background aspect of feeding into the kind of research that could have significant real-world impact?"

The accessibility of data such as this allows us as game designers to refine our titles, paving the way for increased accuracy in data collection. For instance, our Alzheimer's-tackling mobile game, Sea Hero Quest, gave us a pool of over 3m players' data to draw from when designing the VR version of the game. From this pool we were essentially able to cherry-pick the most appropriate and effective designs for levels within the game. The information on how players navigate this simple test was fed back and made for some fascinating insights concerning Alzheimer's.

Our aim was always to apply this as a fun game to play, on top of everything else. But imagine if every game out there was designed with some background aspect of feeding into the kind of research that could have significant real-world impact? Before you know it we could have triple-A racers feeding into driverless vehicle technology, narrative adventure games giving extra detail to research on empathy, perhaps even a match-three title contributing to colour-blindness research.

After all, there’s a huge amount of psychological knowledge that goes into monetisation strategy these days, whether in the time-based waiting system in Candy Crush or the infamous loot boxes that have caused such a storm recently. 

Why don’t we channel what we learn from that into some causes that can affect real change around the world too? Perhaps we can save our planet and the humans within it, not just sell to it.

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