Game features such as challenge, learning and problem-solving can be applied to so many real-world scenarios. Many diverse fields have benefitted including education, scientific research, health care, defence and engineering to name a few. With such a range of possibilities created by ‘serious’ games, what are the opportunities for good – in other words, deliberately bringing a positive impact to the world and people’s lives?
Play to learn
Sol Rogers, CEO & Founder of creative digital production studio REWIND told us "As games keep your attention and actively engage you they can help facilitate learning and development and create positive memories of learning. By playing a game, you can understand a new concept or idea, take on a different perspective, or experiment with different options or variables. Games provide a context for engaging practice and learning new skills or improving skills. VR games in particular offer an incredible, powerful learning environment as they are so immersive and transportive."
Educational games developer Kuato call this process ‘Learnification’. As Kris Turvey, Creative Director explains “There seems to be a common idea that 'serious' games or 'games for good' are somehow apart from 'entertaining' games, as if the entertainment part is somehow a lesser attribute that can be dropped. At Kuato we believe entertainment is essential. Games are ideal learning environments, closely mirroring how children naturally learn through play”.
Turvey points out that through games “kids have unparalleled opportunities to discover, construct and apply knowledge in context, test crazy ideas, fail safely and try again, all whilst immersed in a heightened world of drama and excitement that makes every achievement that much more compelling, and that much more memorable. But that only works if the game is entertaining. We are working to create games that are fun, entertaining and where kids get up a little smarter than when they sat down”.
Leaning through play isn’t only for children of course as Peter Leonard, Art Manager at Realtime describes “As games become more accessible, diverse and capable in the level of complexity and depth they offer, so does the opportunity to teach all age groups in a range of topics, from learning the alphabet to learning about astrophysics, all through interactive content.
A recent BBC article notes that by targeting specific educational products to girls, games-learning now could potentially help redress the lack of women in programming in the future “Danish company SmartGurlz wants to encourage girls to code. Via the SmartGurlz SugarCoded app, girls learn how to code their Siggy Robots to carry out missions and adventures” wrote Sarah Finley. The Fisher Price Code-a-pillar toy is designed to make coding principles accessible from as young as 3 years, which is seriously early pipelining for future skills gaps.
Simulation such as aircraft flight training has long been used to nurture skills development in a safe environment. More recently VR technology means that a new level of skills acquisition can be achieved with enormous potential for good, particularly in the field of medicine. London based Touch Surgery is a pioneer in this sphere. “We use cognitive mapping techniques, cutting edge AI and 3D rendering technology to codify surgical procedures. Touch Surgery also partners with leaders in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality working toward a vision of advancing surgical care in the operating room”. At the heart of this work is improving patient outcomes.
Health and wellbeing
As well as this hands-on contribution to medicine, games are now being created that help scientists and researchers to crunch masses of research data on health issues such as cancer and dementia, all through player interactions within specialised games. One example is Sea Hero Quest developed by games studio Glitchers in collaboration with Alzheimer's Research UK and a number of top academics and neuroscientists with the aim of using the game to fight disease. Games are also being used therapeutically and to raise awareness of wider mental-health issues.
Indies and start-ups
Tim Closs is CTO of Animal Dynamics, a tech start-up founded from Oxford University specialising in computer vision, drone simulation and flight control. The former CTO at Marmalade, Closs told us that it’s not only corporate-scale developers who can make a difference. “I've worked with 5 different start-ups in healthcare, fitness and robotics, and every one of these has sought skills/experience from games. A surgical simulator app needing 3D graphics, Lua scripting and gamified mechanics; an exercise bike linking over Bluetooth to Apple TV to play a fitness games; even a surveillance micro-drone developing assisted navigation software using 3D simulation. In my experience there are a wealth of opportunities for games developers looking to take their skills into other industries, particularly in the start-up world”.
Life enrichment & quality
Gaming for good isn’t only a futurist’s topic, what about the good that conventional video games do for people today? Bill Donegan, Projects Manager at games charity SpecialEffect knows more than most about this subject. He told us “through our projects, we have seen clearly how important playing games are to people. Fun is enough of reason for us, but the benefits can be further reaching still. Our aim is to enable anyone, whatever their physical disability, to enjoy video games. Our projects help people to experience what playing games can offer us all. Things such as fun, escapism and socialising. By giving people the means to participate, we have also seen how this can aid rehabilitation, inclusion and confidence.”
Philanthropy and ‘cause marketing’
Possibly the best known games developers overtly committed to games for good is Playmob. Founder and CEO Jude Ower, MBE told us:
“Games can be a powerful medium to do good. Whether it be creating games, or working in existing games, they have the reach and engagement to encourage global audiences to do good. Existing games are where Playmob operates, we believe that combining small actions in game such as IAP or time based activities, to good causes not only can raise donations and awareness of causes, but also lead to business impact too. We call this 'cause marketing' and when done well and in a way that the cause relates to the audience, such as cyberbullying and teenagers, a campaign can be a powerful tool for the charity, the players and the business. Jane McGonigal quoted that we spend 3 billion hours per week playing games (in 2010, therefore this should be closer to 5 or 6bn now) but we could start solving some of the world's most pressing issues, such as climate change, obesity and poverty, if we were to play 21 billion hours. Our mission is to make all games impactful, which is good for the people and the planet, and good for business too! Millennials are a key driver to this movement and the studios who combine doing good with great games will rise to the top”.