Keep calm and play video games: 5 ways to level up your life through gameplay
By Daniela Capistrano / current.com / @dcap
What if by modifying your gaming routine you could help solve real world problems — while building marketable skills? This isn’t a theory; people are transforming their lives through gameplay all over the world and you can be a part of the movement.
At this year’s Games for Change Festival, a public event that brings the digital games industry together with a broader community of government agencies, foundations, educators, corporate entities and more, industry thought leaders discussed the many ways that games can be a catalyst for social change.
Upon hearing the word “video game,” 72% of households across the nation experience all sorts of feelings: exhilaration over beating a challenging level, memories of arcade sessions with friends, the thrill of discovering customized mod packs online and the sweet agony of standing in line for the latest must-have release.
Gamers sample the latest gadgets at E3 in Los Angeles on June 6, 2012 in California.
Since transitioning from the domain of geeks to the fastest growing industry on the planet, video games have influenced everything from musical genres, to Hollywood’s visual aesthetic and documentaries, to the publishing industry, to education reform.
Who hasn’t discovered a new band, obscure movie or heard about a fascinating cultural phenomenon by chatting with players in-game? Video games are uniquely optimized for interdependence and self-guided learning. You almost can’t escape learning something new from the moment you pick up your controller.
Play to learn
Dr. Idit Harel Caperton, a pioneer in edu-tech innovations and speaker at #G4C12, expounded on the importance of gaming and coding literacy: "Coding games, working hard at games, is the new writing," said Dr. Capterton during her talk. Caperton and other education and technology experts see gameplay and coding literacy as being two of the most important factors in bridging the digital divide and supporting infrastructure to make the U.S. a true global competitor in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
Meanwhile, people don’t just play games anymore to rack up high scores; single players meet their future husbands and wives, families bond through gameplay and fashion designers draw inspiration from gaming environments.
When you consider how television changed the way people process information, the interactive potential of gaming to accelerate learning becomes very exciting.
Inspired by the speakers and participants at #G4C12, here are five free ways that you can modify your gaming habits to help you make a difference in the world, develop new skill sets and find your passion.
Ready to level up? Let’s go!
Background: Winner of this year’s Most Significant Impact award at #G4C12, SPENT is built upon a simple challenge and its tough choices: Start with $1,000 and try to last one month without running out of money. The game uses gaming principles to demonstrate that poverty is about circumstances, not character.
IRL Action: After playing the game, visit volunteermatch.org to find a local organization where you can share your skills with others in need. Just like trading resources in-game helps your network of allies to grow, your few hours a week could really make a difference in someone’s life and be the gateway to new friendships and professional opportunities.
2. Getting Stronger: Make a ‘weak’ character your inspiration
You don’t have to put down your favorite title to begin modding your gameplay to improve situations IRL. Rather than sticking to the “best” characters, start paying attention to the underdogs in your game.
IRL Action: For every training or mission you participate in to improve a weak character’s standing, try to find something in your own life that you can also enhance — little by little — each day. Set some life goals tied to your gameplay that make sense for you. If you and your character could benefit from some new armor, make sure to reward your body with at least 30 minutes of exercise a day and keep track of your progress.
If you play MMOGs, challenge your guild members to join you in your quest to enhance your life. This can work with any game that connects you to players through the Internet. Set goals, share resources and tips during chats between battles and find a buddy who can call you on your sh*t when you start to falter.
As in gameplay and in life, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. As your characters evolve, make sure that you grow too. Documenting your efforts through a blog or Tumblr will help you stay on track — and may inspire others. Let us know how it goes!
Background: Winner of this year’s Best Gameplay award at #G4C12, Unmanned cast players as the newest kind of soldier: one who remotely drops bombs on foreign soil during the day, and goes home to his family at night. The game subtly confronts players about 21st-century warfare, personal and technological disconnection, multitasking, introspection, and game culture.
IRL Action: After playing the game, contact the AIVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) and find opportunities in your community to support veterans and active duty soldiers who are struggling with transitioning back into civilian life.
For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands. The epidemic will not go away without policy changes fueled by support from people like you.
4. Knowing how the sausage is made = making a better sausage
Background: First-hand experience with the mechanics of gaming (coding, story development, production workflows, etc.) does improve gameplay. Studies have also shown that there is something in play — and creating your own games— that gives players permission to take risks considered outlandish or impossible in “real life.”
As part of Connected's "Day in the Life" series, Kim discusses her duties as a level designer and the education that helped her land the job.
Dr. Caperton, who founded Globaloria — a social learning network for teaching young people how to create educational webgames and interactive simulations — encourages people of all ages to “consciously look at how interfaces are designed, how characters are developed and what the social issue and/or concept is” as a method of improving your media literacy. “I can’t imagine any kid growing up and learning how to read but not write. You become a better reader when you learn to write. It’s how we teach people filmmaking and journalism. It [should be] the same with games,” says Caperton.
Douglas Rushkoff, a media theorist and the author of "Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age," agrees: “If you know how to code, you can get a high-paying job right now, or make valuable stuff right now. You will understand more about how the world works, and become a participating member in the digital society unfolding before us,” Rushkoff wrote for CNN.
IRL Action: Visit globaloria.org and get inspired by playing some games created by students. Then, visit scratch.mit.edu/ and learnunity3d.com/ to teach yourself how to create a simple game. To learn multiple programming languages, sign up for Codeacademy and learn with your friends.
You’ll be surprised by how fun and easy it can be and you may be inspired to collaborate with others. Plenty of folks are using crowdfunding tools like Kickstarter to make their indie game idea a reality, why not you?
5. Experiencing communication breakdowns? There’s always a WAY to solve them
Background: Winner of this year’s Game of the Year award at #G4C12, WAY is a two-player, online collaborative game that encourages positive social change by empowering players to work past their differences to accomplish a shared goal.
IRL Action: It’s always easy to preach to the choir, but what about when you need to inspire trust and collaboration with someone who isn’t your biggest fan? Sometimes modifying your communication style is the fastest way to gain clarity with a loved one, friend or peer.
Take what you learn from WAY and experiment with new methods of sharing your ideas at home and at work. If you discover an effective solution, tell your friends!
Just like you swap weapons and cheat codes with your buddies, make time in your life to share self-care practices with those who might need it and are open to your suggestions.
Did you find this information helpful? Share your feedback and anything that you're doing to translate positive gameplay to real-life improvements in the comments.
We’ll be rolling out several articles to encompass the exciting discoveries shared at this year’s Games for Change Festival, so stay tuned and let us know which topics at the festival sparked your interest.
Photos by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/GettyImages and Games for Change.