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Gaming Transcends Cyberspace for Humanitarian Cause

March 2, 2010

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“My goal for the next decade is to try to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online games.” – Jane McGonigal

Millions of online gamers log on everyday to their favorite virtual landscapes. I am not much of an online gamer, but maybe I should consider becoming one. Slaying monsters in World of Warcraft may lead to the development of positive world changing skills. At least this is the message that game designer Jane McGonigal is sending.

McGonigal also serves as Director of Game Research and Development for the Institute for the Future. IFTF is a nonprofit research group that focuses on emerging trends and technologies that may potentially have an impact on global society. The group tackles a broad range of issues including health care, global business, consumerism, and work.

IFTF is committed to improving the quality of life on a global scale. Part of their approach is through the comprehensive understanding of modern technologies. This thorough knowledge enables them to offer forecasts and provide insights.

McGonigal is an avid gamer. She believes that gamers have the abilities necessary to overcome challenges in the real and virtual worlds. That is why she has developed her latest online game, Urgent Evoke.

Urgent Evoke is a fully developed online game complete with an interactive storyline.

Urgent Evoke includes traditional elements of popular alternate reality games – story lines, missions, power-ups, superheroes, and points. Players are tasked with completing ten challenges during the ten week game. The difference is that missions are completed in the real world, not the virtual one.

In this game, the real world environment is Africa. The players can be anyone who wants to participate. Their tasks include real-world social activism and problem solving. Their obstacles include hunger, poverty, water, conflict, human rights, and education.

McGonigal has lofty ambitions. Among them, according to her blog, is “to make sure that a game developer wins a Nobel Prize by the year 2032.” She says the goal of Urgent Evoke is to empower people to make significant change in the world.

McGonigal believes that gamers have the strengths to carry them through adversity. They know how to collaborate through networks. They maintain persistence when challenges become increasingly difficult. Even the introverted can improve their social skills.

Not many people would probably consider online games as a resource for humanitarian education or global progression. Ask McGonigal and she is likely to tell you otherwise. She compares life’s challenges with advancing to the next level in a game or taking on the game level boss. You don’t burden yourself with worries. You just enjoy the challenge. Games teach us that failure is okay. Gamers learn to stay the course regardless of failures.

Any person or organization that is devoted to the advancement of humanity must be applauded.  The world would be a much better place if there were more people who shared the same charitable drive as Jane McGonigal.  She has a clear vision and a developed means in which to realize it.  Is her vision feasible, or should it be dismissed as futurist delusions of grandeur from an overzealous gamer?

There is a reason millions of game enthusiasts continue to log on to virtual worlds each day.  Gaming is an extremely immersive form of escapism.  It enables the ordinary to become extraordinary, with relatively nothing tangible at stake.  Gamers enter these alternate worlds to escape reality, not to influence reality.

Drawing analogous comparisons between an online gaming world and the harsh brutalities of the Third World seems like misguided ambition.  The life or death obstacles encountered in underdeveloped nations like Africa are much more than just the equivalent of surpassing levels in a game.  There are no points or power ups in poverty stricken nations.

We still should never doubt the genuine power of humanitarianism.  Maybe David Bowie was right when he said, “We can be heroes.”

Urgent Evoke is free to play, and open to anyone, anywhere in the world. It launches on March 3, 2010 and concludes on May 12, 2010. Tackling major global issues still not enough incentive for you? Well, if you manage to complete all 10 challenges, the World Bank Institute will also certify you as a social innovator.

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