Games for Change

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In November last year I went to Internetdagarna – a conference on all things Internet in Stockholm. In one of the panel debates, someone said that there are no problems to solve any more for app developers. There are for instance 26 or 27 excellent photo apps trying to get angel funding now, they continued. All is old. The market is saturated with products which developers hope to be the next Instagram, Tinder or WhatsApp – the next app to make life easier or more beautiful for us.

During the conference lunch break I went for a walk in the freezing cold, but beautiful capital of Sweden. I went into a church, which looked interesting.

Inside, I overheard a conversation, where an African man asked another man if he had some shoes, which were size 42. “No, I have size 40”, he replied. “I can’t help you”. I noticed that the whole sole of the African man’s left shoe had come off. It was a cheap copy of a caterpillar boot. Apparently the man needed some new shoes, but didn’t have money to buy some, so came to this church to ask for help.

I thought about the morning’s comment that there are no problems for app developers to solve. Yes! Look here! There are problems. Huge problems. But we need to change the focus of most entrepreneurs. Make them look elsewhere.

Earlier that day in her keynote, the extraordinary game developer Jane McGonigal had tried to do just that. In one slide for instance, which illustrated the 400000 yrs we have now collectively spent on playing the game Angry birds, she made us all reflect on how big gaming is.

I don’t think playing games is a waste of time, but like many others in the audience I wondered if this time could be better used.

***

A couple of years ago, when we developed a game around pitching ideas, my friend Tobias said:

“If it ain’t fun it ain’t a game”.

And I guess that’s the challenge with ‘games for good’ or ‘games for change’, which is the genre that McGonigal and others work in: To turn something fundamentally pointless and fun into something useful. That requires much skills and understanding if it’s even possible.

My issue with games and gamification in particular is that the majority of games don’t pay much attention to our psychological development. Most games assume that we are all the same. And that’s a big mistake. A 12-year old boy and a 49-year old lady will have different reasons to play a game, will be motivated by different challenges and driven towards different goals in the game. The psychology behind game design and gamification is too simple for real, transformative impact today.

But this is changing. Smartphone apps are getting smarter and designers dig deeper into the huge knowledge base of psychology. The app Chrysallis for example, is developed by people with a background in the Integral community – people who consider many many dimensions of the human body, mind and spirit in all that they do.

My dream is to have a lab where such thinkers can experiment with hackers and developers to make games and apps for change.

Real change both on the inside and outside.

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