THE BLOG

Games For Change

01/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Inspiration doesn't only come when we step away from our normal routine, yet often this is the case. Suzanne Seggerman had been a documentary filmmaker for more than 15 years when she took time off to raise her daughter. As a new mother, she realized that her priorities were changing. "When you have a kid, you start to reconfigure your life. Time becomes incredibly precious. And I didn't want to spend it doing anything that wasn't meaningful."

While she was deciding what she might do next, the editor of one of her films gave her a videogame, Hidden Agenda, about Central American politics. She was electrified. "I played for 12 hours straight. It was one of the most exciting media experiences of my life." Apart from being thoroughly entertaining, the game threw open a window to a whole new world for Suzanne. It reminded her of how documentaries had once captured her heart -- in the days when they were engaging people with serious content. "All of a sudden, I saw that games were able to educate people even as they were being entertained."

A game developed for the United Nations is a great example. UN Food Force helps young people learn about feeding those in need: they lead virtual campaigns, manage rations, ride in a helicopter, do food crops, and experience what it's like to be an aid worker. The potential to help young people shift their view of the developing world -- and make New Radical career choices -- is clear. "'I want to be a humanitarian when I grow up' isn't something you expect to hear teens saying. But, with this game, they just might."

For more about Suzanne and Games for Change, the organization she co-founded to help spur the development of this industry, read her provocative piece "Does Obama play video games?"

Games are popping up in all kinds of sectors. As Daniel Pink reports in his insightful book, A Whole New Mind, "...games have begun to enter the medical field. for example, children with diabetes can now use GlucoBoy, which hooks up to a Nintendo Game Boy, to monitor their glucose levels. And at California's Virtual Reality Medical Center, therapists are treating phobias and other anxiety disorders with video games that simulate driving, flying, heights, tight spaces, and other fear-inducing situations..."

They're being used as training tools for physicians and surgeons, too. Pink says that, "One study found that physicians who spent at least three hours a week playing video games made about 37 percent fewer mistakes in laparoscopic surgery and performed the task 27 percent faster than their counterparts who did not play."

The potential for games to change the world is clear. It's a huge opportunity in a business sense -- worldwide, digital games generate $28 billion annually, and sales in the US alone regularly outstrip Hollywood box office. And a career opportunity, too. As the industry expands, there's a demand for coders, designers, and writers. Not to mention people inside organizations who recognize how games can help them achieve their goals, and connect with their target audiences.

Have you discovered the world-changing power of video games? Which ones have you played? Where do you think they could play a role? Please share your thoughts by commenting below, or by emailing me directly at julia@wearethenewradicals.com.