Can online gaming save the world?

That’s the rather counter-intuitive position that Jane McGonigal, researcher at the gloriously titled Institute for the Future, puts forward in this thought-provoking TED talk. Are you scoffing at the suggestion that online games can save the world? Well, to be honest, we did too but give her argument a chance.

Apparently 3 billion hours a week are spent worldwide playing online games. Is this too much? No, argues McGonigal, it’s not enough. If we increase this to 21 billion hours a week then we might be able to save the planet. How? By harnessing the psychosocial dynamics of gaming which, she argues, tend to ve overlooked in most treatments of it as a social phenomenon.

Online gaming environments are empowering and optimism-maximising. The moment-to-moment feedback the environment gives means that people rarely feel disempowered by challenges they can’t meet. More importantly this empowering and optimism-maximising environment is profoundly collaborative. The things gamers are learning in these online environments could, if we seriously try and harness them, have a real impact on seemingly overwhelming global problems. After all games feel they can change the world and are good at working together to achieve these changes.

Not convinced? Nope, neither are we. But she’s certainly persuasive in her argument that online gaming isn’t taken seriously and perhaps should be. Likewise the solutions on offer are intriguing, as well as an inviting prospect ofr when the academic term finishes.

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