Games for Change Part 1: The Power of Urgent Optimism in Learning Games

A Paycheck Away - November 9th at the Spirit and Place Festival

Games change us. They change our brains and they change how we think. They put us in the middle of situations we would have never imagined or expected and allow us to make choices and decisions we never thought possible. Games offer a safe place to feel uncomfortable, a controlled place to experience the chaos of real life. But can games lead us to meaningful SOCIAL change?

Science now gives us plenty of reasons to trust in the power of games for learning. Renowned author and game designer Jane McGonigal, creator of the “SuperBetter” app for meeting fitness, recovery, and mental health goals and many other fantastic games, recently shared her collection of research supporting the use of learning games for supporting learning and personal growth. Jane is a passionate advocate of “games for change,” and her 2010 TED Talk “Gaming Can Make a Better World” has been viewed by millions.

We feel we are as good in reality as in games. In game worlds we are the best version of ourselves possible. When we face obstacles and failure in real life, we feel overcome, overhwelmed, anxious, depressed, cynical. These emotions just do not exist in games. What about this in games makes it impossible to feel that we can’t achieve everything?

Jane McGonigal

Jane McGonigal is a leading adovate and researcher supporting the use of serious games to inspire social change.

According to Jane, gaming fosters a feeling of urgent optimism. Gamers desire to act immediately and tackle an obstacle with immediate hope of success. At Bottom-Line Performance, We have used learning games such as Formulation Type Matters and Knowledge Guru with some of our top clients and seen how that “urgent optimism” and the dopamine rush associated with gaming can enhance learning. Learning games have proven to be one the of most powerful solutions we can offer.

But we want to take our learning games further. We want to combine our passion for games with our passion for philanthropy. Giving back is a huge part of our company culture and philosophy. Dayspring Center, a temporary homeless shelter in Indianapolis, is our closest charitable partner. We are constantly searching for ways to support their mission and end homelessness in Indianapolis. It’s about more than just giving money: to solve the homelessness problem, we need to educate and inspire.

That’s why we are creating “A Paycheck Away,” a learning game that will show what being homeless is really like…and why it is so hard for people to get out of it. Our game was selected for the 2012 Spirit and Place Festival, a coming-together of arts, religion, and humanities in Indianapolis. Bottom-Line Performance is one of the first ever corporate entities to participate in such an event, and we are partnering with CIASTD to make it happen We are hoping to draw a whole demographic to our event, held Friday November 9th at Farm Bureau Insurance in Indianapolis. This year’s Spirit and Place theme is Play, and how play contributes to our physical, emotional, social, and community well-being.

Homelessness is surrounded by misunderstanding and misconceptions. Well meaning people, ourselves included, simply do not “get” the issues related to it because we have not felt the challenges, hardships, and situations on an emotional level. Through playing our game at Spirit and Place, we hope to do more than just generate awareness. We want to inspire a group of intelligent, capable people to find real solutions to a systemic problem that is so much more complex than one person’s bad decision. We need to generate some urgent optimism around an issue that is so often written off as hopeless. If McGonigal’s research is any indication, a well-designed game is the perfect place to start.

This is the first of four installments for our Games For Change blog series. We hope you’ll join us as we continue developing our game, sharing stories along the way. Next week, we’ll tell you all about how we ran our initial game design session for “A Paycheck Away” and how the game continues to evolve.

Follow “A Paycheck Away” on Twitter and Become a Fan on Facebook to join in the conversation about how serious games can make a difference in our world.

Learn More about Spirit and Place.

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  • Lina

    Hi, I read with interest your story. One thing that keeps troubling me is that no one seems to discuss what to do with those that hate games, that get all the feelings McGonical described are not present in games, namely “. When we face obstacles and failure in real life, we feel overcome, overhwelmed, anxious, depressed, cynical. These emotions just do not exist in games.” My own experience is that it can be even more stressful. Now, when it starts to be hard to avoid games, more and more topics get bad flavour. I truly hope, that the persons who feel differently towards games are also taken into account.
    Very Best
    Lina

    • LessonsOnLearning

      I agree…some have quite the negative view of games. Context and prior expectations are everything. The positive elements of games will not have an effect on an individual who has already tuned the experience out. Simply because a learning experience IS a game does not mean it is a GOOD game or a well-designed game. The pressure is on game designers to create excellent experiences, while recognizing that a game cannot possibly appeal to the sensibilities of all people.

      …That being said, I believe there is at least *one* game out there that everyone would enjoy if they gave it a chance. “Game” is not a dirty word :) .