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stanner's picture

Wii Fit and Free Rice

I've also been wondering about this.  It seems to me that in some cases games actually can solve problems, and in others it is the ideas, values, and motivations that make up game-playing that could save the world.  Obesity and hunger are really good examples of issues that are hard to fix through games only because they are both physical problems.  Sitting in front of a screen isn’t going to feed anyone in need, nor will it help anyone who needs to live a healthier, more active lifestyle do so. 

For the obesity problem, though, there are video games which are not only played by sitting in front of a screen.  Wii Fit, for example, is a great way for players to be more active, and have fun doing it because of the game-style setup of the exercise.  (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-cara-natterson/wii-an-indoor-fix-to-chil_b_326044.html for the additional benefit of allowing children to be active indoors while parents are not available to supervise them outdoors).  As far as hunger, there is a game (which Besan also mentioned above) called FreeRice which is a quick trivia game which donates rice to those in need for every correct vocabulary question answered.  This game is productive in two ways: it allows anyone to help donate food to those in need, and helps user broaden their vocabularies and learn new things.  (This program is run by the United Nations World Food Programme. Here is their “about” page: http://freerice.com/about)  

So in answer to your question, I think it is games like Wii Fit and Free Rice which are based off of gaming ideas but accomplish more than just being entertaining that make people think that games can save the world.  We can use the ideas behind games that motivate people to play by making them feel empowered and desire to accomplish more by applying them to games that actually accomplish real things and solve real problems.  Maybe when Jane McGonigal talks about increasing the hours of playing games, she is talking about games like these instead of ones that don't really do anything for the physical world.

But now I have a question based on what you said at the end of this post: What does gaming do to social interactions?  Is there any way for games to take part in improving rather than causing a deterioration of real social interactions?

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