Gregory Garvey, professor of Game Design and Development and the founder of that program at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, has developed Covid-19 Exterminator. Players can engage together to destroy the virus and, if they choose, make a donation for frontline health workers. Professor Garvey has created this game in order to promote social good and as an entirely volunteer contribution to the community.
The History and Growth of Gaming
It’s been easily a decade since total revenues in games, in all sectors, has exceeded theater box office. In more recent years, gaming—in all its different forms, whether it’s mobile or consoles or PC-based—is really the preferred medium of entertainment among various demographics. The Entertainment Software Association, from which the president/CEO speaks every year at Games For Change, presents stats that show that women increasingly make up a significant part of the gaming population. And that’s especially true where games have really moved in to the mobile space. Almost everyone will have some kind of game on their phone. And the violent games we think of are just one small segment of the types of video games being offered to all genders and ages of players.
The Power of Video Games for Social Change
That really brings me to the educational power of games and the potential of games for fostering behavioral change. Certainly, Games for Change is a leader in this area, in promoting on their site games that are literally about walking in someone else’s shoes, but also raising various issues of concern. And whether it’s through simulation of economics, food security, homelessness, or cancer, they cover quite a range of topics.
One of the more powerful things about games is the immersive engagement of players, which can be used for educational and other social good purposes.
A beautiful game that allows someone to gain insight into the heartbreak of childhood cancer is called That Dragon, Cancer. It is one of the games on the Games For Change site. There is also a related documentary. The game is about a husband and wife team and their young child who has inoperable brain cancer. The game has extraordinary poignant moments. One that sticks in my mind is looking at the little boy on his rocking horse and knowing that the child’s life is prematurely limited.
I’m currently working with the play4REAL XR Lab at Yale University, which is part of the bigger lab called play2PREVENT. Both of these labs study the impact of games to effect positive behavioral change, addressing issues like safe sex.
The game that I developed with my students in conjunction with play4REAL is called Ad-Attacker. The idea behind this game is to use virtual reality—and we’re looking at expanding into XR (Extended Reality) or AR (Augmented Reality)—to dismantle and deconstruct advertisements that are targeted to middle school and high school students. We are seeing the same deceptive messaging strategies utilized by cigarette companies almost two generations ago. So the intent is to use gaming to create engaging experiences that allow players to experience and develop strategies to deflect the onslaught of the marketing push.
The Persuasive Powers of Games
In Persuasive Games, Ian Bogost from Georgia Institute of Technology establishes the concept of procedural rhetoric as the essential meaning-making function of videogames. Procedural rhetoric entails translating systems that exist in the real world into a digital format, and learning about those systems through exploration and play. Going back to classical times, rhetoric is the art of persuasion toward the most correct judgement.
Games can be persuasive in this same manner. You are changed even if you’re simply playing a first-person shooter, as narrow as that might be. Games can provide a new perspective. Minecraft is an example of a wonderful ecosystem. Initially, the players were in their late 20s, early 30s. Now you have very young kids using Minecraft. And there’s Minecraft University. It is considered and used as an educational platform. Students can actually learn how to code using Minecraft.
And then there is the whole social side of it, which a respected academic and scholar, James Paul Gee, first brought to everyone’s attention in a book called What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.
The Benefits to Nonprofit of Utilizing Video Games as a Medium of Engagement, Advocacy and Fundraising
A place to begin is the recognition that no matter a nonprofit's target audience, there is a likelihood that they are playing games. This is especially true since the shift to so-called "casual" games, which are accessible to a broader audience. One of the most successful of that genre is Candy Crush Saga. It’s easy to download, and people can play it for just a minute or two.
For nonprofits, an early example is Freerice, sponsored by the UN World Food Programme. It’s a very simple online game. You’re answering multiple choice questions, and every time you get a question right, you are donating a grain of rice, and that is matched with ten grains by sponsors. Through this process, the Programme has raised 201 billion grains of rice for people in need.
Another early game is called Foldit. This is an example of a game that allows you to compete against artificial intelligence to figure out folding patterns for proteins. The game respects the laws of chemistry and biology, so there’s only certain possibilities that are allowable due to the chemical nature. Every time a human player discovers one, it is entered in a database. The humans beat the artificial intelligence. This is an example of citizen science.
Again, these examples point to very different ways to engage an audience. Nonprofit leaders can step back and ask the question “How do we reach who we need to reach?” These could be folks from fundraising side of their operations or who they serve. to achieve their mission. I would say that today's games offer a critical entry point for outreach, both for fundraising, building advocacy and promoting social change.
More about Professor Garvey: He joined Quinnipiac in 1999 as Visiting Fellow in the Arts. He is a digital media artist and has exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Techfest in Mumbai and elsewhere internationally. Previously, the professor taught at Concordia University in Montreal. Professor Garvey serves on the Board of Directors of GameDevCT, an organization that helps promote the game industry in Connecticut
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