Making the Leap from Keyboard to Real World

Making the Leap from Keyboard to Real World


Tell a random person on the street that your character just dinged fifty in CoH, and they might look at you strangely.  Even when you explain to the non-gamer in English that your character or avatar or toon (take your pick) just reached level fifty in the online game City of Heroes by meeting challenges and acquiring experience points, many are still going to look at you with an attitude of, “…and?” It’s hard for many non-gamers to understand the point of games, and even harder to see the value gained by playing them.

Now what if you told the average person that you were catalyzing social impact through gaming? Okay, they might still say, “…huh?” But once you explained to them what that meant (remember to use small words and talk slowly), they might just say, “Wow!”

All around the world, charitable, humanitarian, and educational organizations are using gamification to bring together entertainment and engagement for the benefit of social good.

Games for Change is an industry leader, bringing together organizations who actively pursue gaming technology to further their causes.  The site offers existing games in a variety of fields, including ecology, human rights, education, arts, and health. Current games include:

  • Dys4ia: A series of mini-games by Anna Anthropy that explore the cultural challenges of being a transgender person.
  • The Great Piggy Bank Adventure: A joint venture of Disney Corporation and T. Rowe Price that allows players to test out forms of investing and learn lessons about saving money and funding dreams.  The game was created  to compliment the existing interactive exhibit at the Disney Epcot Center in Florida.
  • SuperBetter: Launched in March 2012, Superbetter is an online social game that helps players build up personal resilliance in the face of serious challenges–health, injury, depression, etc.  The game allows for fully customizable play which, utilizing scientific principles, allow them to “power up” (find small wins) as well as fight off “bad guys” (activities and emotions that bring them down) all in pursuit of that “epic win.”

Games for Change also hosts the Games for Change Festival in New York City, as well as offering a game lab to help organization develop new games. One of their current projects is “Half the Sky,” funded by the Ford Foundation, the UN Foundation, and USAID. The game, which will be offered as a mobile app as well as on Facebook, is part of a multi-media campaign to raise awareness of the oppression of women worldwide, as well as encourage real-world action and micro-donations.

Reaching level 50 in City of Heroes might not mean much to the average person. But reaching individuals in need, helping encourage activism, and raising awareness of social issues through gaming will certainly get their attention.  And Games for Change is getting our attention…in a big way.


Image (CC) –  by Daneel Ariantho


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