Feeling Stumped? Seek Help From a Video Gamer

Once seen as reclusive couch potatoes, video gamers now represent a powerful, problem-solving brain trust.
July 09, 2012

Game developer Jane McGonigal recently spoke at the World Innovation Forum in New York City about how to solve some of the world's biggest problems: Just ask video gamers.

McGonigal, whose work was touted as one of the "Top 20 Breakthrough Ideas" by the Harvard Business Review, has extensively researched the positive benefits of gaming and specializes in "games that challenge players to tackle real-world problems ... through planetary-scale collaboration." Here's why McGonigal thinks gamers are up to the challenge of improving business worldwide.

Gamers Everywhere

At the World Innovation Forum, McGonigal shared that there are now a billion people on the planet who play games for at least an hour a day. She then gave some statistics that spoke to gaming's striking popularity: The game "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" grossed $400 million in its first 24 hours on the market, and surpassed $1 billion in sales in two weeks. There have been a billion downloads of "Angry Birds," making it the world's largest community and surpassing the number of Facebook users. Within this group there is incredible diversity, including diversity of ideas.

Logging Hours

Not only are there an enormous number of people playing games, but they are logging a startling number of hours playing. "Angry Birds" alone is played for 300 million minutes a day, and it is estimated that the global community spends a collective 7 billion hours a week playing games.

Why do so many turn to games? McGonigal thinks that people are seeking stimulation and challenge that they are not finding in the workplace, noting that "71 percent of U.S. workers are actively disengaged at their jobs." She believes that posing a real-life challenge to the gaming community and channeling these hours invested into solving the world's problems could yield tremendous results.

Relentlessly Creative

McGonigal tells us that a new study has proven that "kids who spend time playing video games are more creative than those who don't." This means that problems posed to this group will be met with out-of-the-box thinking.

According to McGonigal, players spend roughly 80 percent of their time failing. "If you were to spend 80 percent of your life failing, you'd probably give up," she says. "But gamers love failure. They volunteer to spend their time failing over and over again." This perseverance will be an invaluable asset when addressing the world's dire issues, as there will be no quick fixes or easy answers.

Past Success

In her presentation, McGonigal referenced the success of Foldit, an elaborate computer game where players try to determine the structure of a protein. Developed by scientists at the University of Washington, Foldit was born out of their inability to determine a protein that causes AIDS in rhesus monkeys, a problem that stumped them for over a decade. Scientists then turned to gamers, who solved the problem in just 10 days.

McGonigal insisted that, if presented with real-world problems, the billion gamers on the planet are ready to collaborate with scientists, economists, pathologists and various experts. However, as she said, "it's up to us what challenge we want them to tackle next."

What issues do you think gamers should seek to solve?

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