Games Build and Bridge Communities To Enable Social ChangeBy John-Paul Kwasie May 31, 2011
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At their core, games revolve around the creation and recognition of a community. Game playing can motivate and mediate real-world, traditionally “offline” interactions and unite a variety of players working toward a shared goal.
Player communities can transcend the traditional boundaries of games to develop ideas that not only mean successes within the game but have positive impact on the real world. GeeksWithoutBounds is currently planning GameSave; a hack-a-thon style event in Seattle that asks participant teams to develop a game concept and demo that provide a clear solution for dealing with natural disasters.
Games further encourage players to recognize the strengths in others and to self-organize varying skill sets and interests to achieve a unified goal. GroundCrew is a mobile community engagement platform that connects and assembles organic or existing communities of local volunteers to complete “missions” for social good. These missions can range from scavenger hunts to community art projects to neighborhood clean-ups.
More than 30 Groundcrew members in Jamaica Plain, MA formed “Snowcrew” in winter 2010 to help dig out their neighborhood after being pummeled by consecutive blizzards. “More or less what Groundcrew does is give you the opportunity to have some kind of social, engaged adventure near you on your cell phone with either an organization that you care about or just on a topic that you care about, and the fact that it’s civic-related or that it might be ‘volunteering’ is just incidental,” said Joe Edelman, CEO of Groundcrew.
While games aimed at creating positive social impact are by no means new, the recent “mobile” explosion is helping to bring them into the real-world in real-time, making them to feel more “game-like” and social.
The role-playing inherent in games can also be used as a tool to inspire players to cultivate sympathy and address the troubling issues faced by other communities. By assuming the identity of a character in a hypothetical situation, players can be educated about real world problems in a very immersive way, and can be newly inspired to donate towards or increase their involvement with charitable groups and causes. For example, Spent is a Web-based game by the Urban Ministries of Durham encouraging awareness of the hardships faced due to poverty and unemployment. The site directly links to donation options that benefit the unemployed. The UNHCR’s Against All Odds game similarly asks players to step into the shoes of someone less fortunate (refugees worldwide). The game integrates with an external fact page and a Facebook share page to generate refugee awareness.
The next generation of games can continue to create groundbreaking impact for social good—by getting people interested in causes in a way that’s immersive, meaningful, and genuinely sympathetic, and by mobilizing individual “players” and local communities to actually get out in the real world to create positive change of their own.
Header image courtesy of macowell’s Flickr, (cc) some rights reserved.
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