Ever since we invited Darshana Gothi Chauhan to present Urban ISM at the Smarter Cities breakout session at the third Design Public, I’ve been incredibly curious about the use of gaming as a social development strategy. Like Sara Aulin of the Embassy of Sweden pointed out during a discussion on participation and collaboration in innovation, games are fun, and as such, people who may not normally be interested or engaged, are drawn in to the process. And then today, I came across this excellent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review about Gaming with a Purpose, which gives several examples of so-called ‘Serious Games’ that have made a serious impact. Like he says, “Serious games tap into the same culture of online friendship from social networking to fuel peer involvement and encourage collaboration around real-world challenges.” He goes on to write:
Games launched on social media platforms have the potential to positively influence charitable giving, volunteering, exercise patterns, and even money management. A player’s gaming success is based on their ability and willingness to engage with their friends to advance in the game. Games on social media platforms reward our interactions with friends, connect us with a geographically diverse group of people, and create a new culture of online friendship that is tied to gaming.
Games can not only teach us to be more socially engaged and present, but also be potentially educative, skills enhancing, and simulate situations that would otherwise not be possible. As this report on Serious Games from the University of Skövde states,
Serious games can be applied to a broad spectrum of application areas, e.g. military, government, educational, corporate, healthcare. In addition to obvious advantages, like allowing learners to experience situations that are impossible in the real world for reasons of safety, cost, time, etc., serious games, it is argued, can have positive impacts on the players’ development of a number of different skills.
Serious games have the potential to marry fun and entertainment – things that most of us are naturally drawn towards – with more ‘serious’ or desired social behaviors and practices. Of course, the nomenclature ‘Serious Games’ can be both contradictory and misleading, since it is entirely possible to adopt healthier behaviors while thoroughly enjoying yourself. Moreover, despite the fact that the report and the article both focus on digital games, the very same concepts can also be applied in the real world. For example, in order to encourage people to take the stairs instead of the escalator, regular stairs at the Odenplan subway station in Stockholm were turned into piano keys. This led to an almost-instant 66% increase in the number of people choosing to take the stairs instead, the desired, healthier behavior. And, of course, the sheer fun of the stairs probably made people happier, which is in itself a health benefit. Watch the video here: