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Can games deliver social good?

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When games are usually spoken of in terms of their social impact it’s usually in a negative sense.  They’re said to contribute to violence in society for instance or deprive our young of the exercise and fresh air they need to be fit and healthy.

It doesn’t have to be that way however.  Last month the Games for Change Festival celebrated the power of video games to deliver beneficial social change.  The event is in its 10th year and annually brings together people from the gaming industry with those from education, government and non-profits to discuss the creation of games that can deliver positive impacts to society.

Each year, as part of the festival, the Games for Change Awards are issued.  A winner this year for instance was Data Dealer, a game designed to raise awareness of data and online privacy.  Another victor was Quandary, a game designed to test players moral compass.

Despite this progress, it’s hard to deny that the social good gaming niche is very much a small segment of the overall gaming market.  The Games for Change Festival only attracted 800 people to it this year, whilst the award winning titles sold a tiny fraction of the 10 million copies of Call of Duty II that were shifted last year.

Of course games come in all shapes and sizes.  Gamification has already had a strong impact on areas such as health and fitness, with a vast range of apps on the market to turn diet and fitness into a game.  Indeed, much of the personal analytics field employs game mechanics to turn our personal measurements into a competition, either with ourselves or others.

Add in the many competitions run by the likes of the Knight Foundation, and it seems competition is already having a strong social impact.  Can that transfer to actual games themselves?  Time will tell.  Social movies have made an impact down the years, and it may take a similar industry wide investment to create a social gaming industry as well.

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