Video Games Saving The World

I read a very interesting article today titled, “Can Computer Games Save Us All?” that discusses an interview between Terrence McNally and Jane McGonigal. For those of you who don’t know, Jane McGonigal is the director of both Game R&D as well as Social Chocolate. She has been described by many (including BusinessWeek, MIT tech review, and Oprah magazine) as one of the top 10 innovators changing the world through technology. McGonigal starts off the interview by giving her definition of a game saying, “it’s a voluntary obstacle, an unnecessary challenge that you are volunteering to engage with.” She breaks down a game into four simple parts: a goal, restrictions on how one can achieve that goal, a feedback system to tell the player if they are close to achieving that goal, and it must be voluntary. Something that caught my attention in the article was that she mentions games have been around as long as civilizations. I had never really thought of games in that sense before because they always seem like a relatively new invention to me. Even modern day sporting events such as football and basketball only were invented in the last hundred years or so. What is interesting about this point is that although games are such a crucial part of our society, and have been since they were created, schools rarely if at all use games in an educational setting. It seems obvious after reading this article that if humans have invested so much time and energy into gaming we would also incorporate it into how we learn. Yet, this is clearly not the case. The article continues by addressing some of the big benefits of games such as, “they increase your resilience in the face of challenges”. In other words, games are always pushing you to the edge of your ability, which in turn makes you remain engaged longer with these challenges than real life challenges. This relates back to our class reading about flow and how games are great at maintaining this balance between boredom and frustration. But the really interesting piece of the article is near the end, when McGonigal mentions how gaming has given us the potential to solve real world problems, such as HIV. In a game called Foldit, developed at the University of Washington, players learn how to properly fold proteins in a way that prevents diseases. The makers of Foldit describe it as a complicated version of tetris, which takes advantage of the gaming ability to manipulate 3D objects. By playing this game, gamers, without any scientific background, solved how to stop the HIV virus from replicating in the body in only 10 days. In contrast, scientists working in laboratory settings have spent over 10 years looking for the same solution. These gamers might actually get a Nobel prize for their work even though all they did was play videogames. This is only one example from the article on how modern gaming could actually solve many current real world problems and yet still remain enjoyable. Overall, this article is a very interesting read and if you are interested in learning more about McGonigal she just published a book, Reality Is Broken, and also has a very interesting TED talk.



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. elton1
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 18:10:17

    Cool interview. Just a couple things of clarification though, FoldIt implores gamers as humanized versions of the supercomputers they use. By looking through the gamers’ solutions, they can refine their protein folding algorithms (which use spare CPU energy from PlayStation 3’s, random supercomputers, and powerful PCs). This is the computer equivalent of the social principle “cognitive surplus”.

    So just to be precise (and anal), gamers don’t actually solve crystal structures, they help provide much better algorithms which can help solve future biochemical mysteries.

    I definitely hope that one of these labs working with computational biochemistry wins the prize though!


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