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How Games can Make a Better World

I think that a lot of people might agree that games are an important part of a better world. That is, games and the fun that result from people engaged in gaming is a critical part of a better world. In fact, stated this way, I think that perhaps most people in the world would agree that games are important in a better world.

However, it is unlikely, I think, that most people would agree that games can MAKE a better world. That is, gaming and the process of playing games will be a critical part of changing the way in which we think about and engage with our world, making it a better place in which to live. This presents a very different position, that games are a solution to our world’s most pressing problems.

I am a lifelong Boy Scout. In writing Scouting for Boys and setting the stage for the international Boy Scout Movement, Lord Baden Powell wrote a book that outlines the principles of Scouting as a series of Camp Fire Yarns. Yarns are, of course, stories; usually they are stories that are long, elaborate, and twisted, but often have a moral. But these stories are punctuated throughout with games; these games are essential parts of the Scout program, that teach youth how to interact and engage with others and be prepared for all kinds of adventures and become responsible and practical adults.

For a Scout, then, it should be no surprise that games can help people develop good skills in solving real-world problems. games are not only an important part of the discovery process, but do very well to instill the practices that are just, good, and responsible.

It should not be so difficult, then, to extend this ideology to suggest that if we posit the most difficult issues of our time in a challenging and resolvable game format, then we are more likely to not only develop more creative and likely resolutions, but instill the habits that improve the odds of resolving these issues. If people are more likely to conduct challenging but vital activities when confronting them in a game than in real-life, then why don’t we make more of what we experience in real-life a game-like activity? What do we have to lose by doing so? More importantly, what might we gain?

If nothing else, real-world gaming might be good practice to resolving problems. But there is much more potentially to be gained by playing our way forward and framing the world’s most pressing issues as a game. For example:

Feeding the World Challenge

With 7 billion people on the planet, the world’s natural resources are currently stretched to the limit. Food, in particular, is at a premium, and half the world goes to bed each day hungry. Your objective in this game is to find a way to share/compete for resources to comfortably feed the greatest number of people, while gradually finding a population equilibrium.

Although this game example does not provide any details about how players play the game, its rules, methods, or devices, I think it illustrates how a game might posit critical real-word issues in a resolvable, creative, and meaningful way. In order to make the game more fun, there should be unpredictable elements, not just those that are associated with intellect or skill. Certainly, though, experience and smarts should count for something. It would certainly give a lot more people the opportunity and incentive to consider important issues and their resolution.

Feeling lucky today? Then give a game a go!

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