Better Living Through Games

In Summer 2009, the UK’s Guardian newspaper has a problem: an enormous pile of receipts. British politicians had been caught filing what would total millions of pounds’ worth of bogus personal expenses. to try to quell the uproar, the government scanned hundreds of thousands of receipts from members of Parliament and dumped the files online – giving reporters the Herculean task of analyzing them. The editors at the Guardian fought back. They turned the task into a game – and invited the public to play. A Guardian programmer named Simon Willison created a clever web app that would present you with a randomly chosen receipt. If it looked dodgy, you could write a quick description of what you’d found, then hit a big investigate this! button to send the receipt to the paper’s reporters. A leader board tracked which contributors had made the most finds. The goal: to get people competing to be top dog, just like on Xbox live. 

It worked. 

In less than four days, some 20,000 players analyzed a stunning 170,000 pages – and the Guardian published some of the most egregious discoveries, such as an MP who charged $441 for a sterling silver pen. It turns out that the mechanics of video games can transform the world – making even the most arduous tasks pleasant and rewarding. 

“games are the future of positive psychology,” says Jane McGonigal, a game designer and the author of the new book “reality is Broken”. Games, she says, bring out our better angels: when we play a game, we think creatively, collaborate, and persist. “you can apply game design,” she added, “to ANYTHING”

Jane McGonigal

McGonigal points to the example of four square, which confers playful rewards, such as badges for certain activities (like going to the same place fro drinks four nights in a row) or being named “mayor of a spot if you check in there often enough. These incentives have proven so irresistible that friends now joust over mayorships by repeatedly haunting their favorite places – which, to retailers delight, drives extra business. 

But McGonigal dreams bigger, she thinks we can use games to tackle some of our biggest challenges, like global warming. In 2007, she helped design a role-playing game called World without Oil, which encouraged thousands of players to brainstorm solutions to peak oil.

WWO: addmitidly, it might need some work to look more fun

A group of designers is currently developing Lost Joules, an online game that will get players to compete to save energy. What if every smart meter plugged your home into a rollicking worldwide game of seeing who can consume the least? imagine having bragging rights for all of North America! 

For years, games have let us save virtual worlds. Now they’ll let us save the real one. 

One thought on “Better Living Through Games

  1. 🙂 more details about this issue please and i want to hear what you think about it and what you would do to make things better 🙂


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