Balancing protection of the environment and the needs of a particular community is kind of like a game. Each decision affects one, the other, or both, and opens up a new set of alternatives. The answers are not always right or wrong. but instead are subjective. The more innovative the answer, the more likely it is that issues will actually be resolved. When a gamer solves a problem in an innovative and imaginative way, they call it an “epic win.” The same critical thinking skills needed to navigate video games are needed to determine solutions to some of the most pressing problems of our time.
By the time an average gamer has reached the age of 21, they will have spent 10,000 hours gaming. As Malcolm Gladwell states in his book on success, Outliers, spending 10,000 hours on anything makes someone a virtuoso. So what are games learning to be good at?
Jane McGonigal outlines some ideas in a TED talk in 2010 titled “Gaming can make a better world.”
- Urgent Optimism: Gamers have extreme self motivation combined with the confidence they can achieve a goal, and it is urgent to do so now.
- Weaving a Tight Social Community: People generally like someone better after playing a game with them, even if they get beat. The game becomes the basis of common interest.
- Blissful Productivity: Gamers are happier working hard toward a goal related to something they enjoy than just sitting around.
- Epic Meaning: Gamers seek epic purpose centered around a mission in an epic world
She states, “gamers are super empowered, hopeful individuals.” The problem? Gamers are motivated more in games than in the real world. The gaming world is an escape from reality.
“We are witnessing what amounts to no less than a mass exodus to virtual worlds and online gaming environments,” says Economist Edward Castronova. Why? Gaming communities offer things the real world doesn’t:
Photo Credit: Deviantar
A sense of mission. There is always something important to be done. There is no unemployment, sitting around with nothing to do, or hours spent worrying. The mission is always achievable at the player’s level, but it is a stretch, so “you have to try hard.”
A ton of collaborators. There is a large community, and often everyone is vested in the success of both individuals and the group as a whole.
Immediate positive feedback. Unlocking a new level, plus ones, and new rewards and tools keep gamers moving forward. These type of rewards are not always present in the real world.
Educators are already working at harnessing the power of gaming to introduce role playing into the classroom. The environmental science program at ASU has one such program, using games to introduce students to “real life” scenarios in which they take on certain leadership roles and achieve certain successes. In most cases there is no right or wrong answer. Every scenario offers some kind of win.
A report titled “Harnessing the Power of Videogames for Learning” from the 2006 Summit on Educational Games by the Federation of American Scientists found: “Students remember only 10 percent of what they read; 20 percent of what they hear; 30 percent if they see visuals related to what they hear; 50 percent if they watch someone do something while explaining it; but almost 90 percent if they do the job themselves, even if only as a simulation.”
Ola Ahlqvist,Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at Ohio State University describes gaming in education as “a dynamic real-time collaborative that is immersive and filled with multimedia.”
The virtual worlds in video games are becoming more complex and difficult to design, so the use of proven GIS tools to make them realistic is gaining traction. From world building, the transition to using games for geospatial research and analysis is a seemingly easy one. The range of applications runs from agriculture, such as the GeoGame Green Revolution currently being tested in classrooms to National Geographic’s MapMaker Interactive.
Harnessing skills gamers have already mastered and leveraging the collaborative nature of the social environments already in place opens up some unique possibilities. But how do we reach gamers and get them to play GIS games?
Make the learning and work environment more like games. People use games to escape real world suffering. We need to make learning and work that kind of escape.
Give people the means to achieve “epic wins.” Projects should be tailored to their skill level, yet still challenging. Using real world data can help create the challenge, yet fuel innovation.
Map out an epic adventure. The work of using GIS to solve problems is filled with accomplishable goals and wins on the way to a larger goal. Structuring games for learning, research, and other work in this manner will utilize skills already unlocked.
Combining the analytical power of GIS with the urgent optimism, social community, productivity, and sense of epic meaning and adventure already present in the gaming community who knows what kind of levels will be unlocked. Either way, harnessing these incredible resources will be an epic win.
Troy Lambert is a freelance writer, editor, and non-profit consultant by day, and a suspense thriller author by night. He learned about the power of GIS while working as a researcher at a museum, and is always looking for ways to apply this technology and big data in new and innovative ways. Troy is an avid cyclist, skier, and hiker. He lives, works, and plays in Boise, Idaho. His work can be found at troylambertwrites.com, and you can connect with him on Twitter @tlambertwrites.