02 Apr 2013

Gaming for Good

By Lily



Over the last few weeks, games for social change is something we’ve heard about repeatedly both from applicants and in the news, so we wanted to jot down a few thoughts on this and we’d love to hear yours in the comments. There seem to be  three main ways of approaching gaming for good: first, making data analysis fun; second, using games as a medium to educate and third, gaming as a method of behaviour change.

All of these approaches are highly fertile ground for creating social impact, particularly when reaching beyond the usual suspects. Gaming, unlike some more obviously philanthropic activities, cuts through many different sections of society, geeks and non-geeks, young and old, men and women, rich and poor. Few people these days aren’t playing games on one device or another or having their interactions gamified without them even realising it.

Here are some examples of the three approaches above. The list is obviously not exhaustive so please feel free to add your examples and comments.


1. Gaming Data

A few months ago at Campus in Shoreditch, Facebook, Google and the Citizen Science Alliance teamed up with Cancer research for a fascinating hack weekend to solve an ongoing dilemma in the cancer research world: Scientists have amassed way more data than they can quickly understand. Although much software has been developed to analyse this data, it turns out that there are some things for which you still need the human eye. So the hack weekend aimed to create a mobile game that would enable just about anyone with a few minutes to spare to help sort through the messy data in a fun format.

Making a game out of data analysis has also been used to classify galaxies and identify solar storms among many others. And we reckon there is a massive potential for new ventures in this space.


2. Gaming Education

Although games have always been a massive part of pedagogy, the technological aspect is increasingly being brought into play. This article on the BBC popped up last week about a physics teacher who has adapted the GCSE syllabus into a world of warcraft style quest with really positive results. And there is Afroes Games, based in South Africa, who build mobile based games to teach young people about everything from gender based violence to taking care of the environment. The ‘sage on the stage’ method of teaching that is still the norm in most of our schools and universities needs disruption and we think gaming would be an exciting space in which to start.


3. Gaming Behaviour Change

This last one is increasingly popular. Is there a way to make people healthier, more socially at ease and more environmentally aware by rewarding changes in behaviour (and punishing transgressions). Put like that, people scream ‘big brother state’ and run a mile, but done right gaming behaviour change could have huge social impact. Sites like foursquare are hugely successful at using tiny (and dare I say meaningless) rewards such as cyber badges or ‘mayorships’ to hugely motivate users. Can we use similar methods to encourage people to exercise more or recycle? We haven’t seen anyone crack it yet but we know that it won’t be long in coming…

We’d love to hear your examples or ways in which you think gaming could be used to create social change. And, if you have a really good idea about gaming for good (or anything else), why not apply to our Summer 2013 programme. Applications close on the 29th April.