Image source: Eugene Ter-Avakyan on Flickr
Every couple of years I attend a conference about games with a purpose (there are a couple of them in the space: Serious Games and Games for Change) and get inspired to write about games that teach us something (e.g. Digital Compass), inspire us to act (e.g. Unsavory) or just give us permission to experience a different point of view and develop empathy (e.g. Spent). One question that begs to be asked is whether games really work. The US government thinks so, for example NOAA has a whole site dedicated to games about the ocean; most have the goal of educating the kids about the plight of the oceans and turning them into stewards of the oceans. So should we (as social marketers) invest in games to teach a skill, to inspire action and to invoke an emotion? Here are some numbers that show us that the answer is a resounding “YES:”
Seven reasons games are right for your audience
- 97 percent of kids play games.
- 50 percent of parents play games with their kids at least once a month, and 30 percent play with them more regularly.
- 55 percent of teachers report using games in their classrooms at least once a week.
- 80 percent of households report owning a device to play games on.
- 33 percent of women over age 18 play games.
- 12 hours is time millennials spend playing games on average per month.
- One hour of game time per day seems to be the key for children to be happier and socially adjusted, compared with kids who didn’t play games and kids who played more than three hours.
The science of gaming
- The Super Mario study showed that game play changes grey matter in brain areas responsible for spatial navigation, strategic planning, working memory and motor skills, suggesting games can be used as possible treatments for a variety of mental health conditions.
- Action games improve reading skills in kids with dyslexia.
- Laparoscopic surgeons that play at least three hours of games a week make 37 percent fewer mistakes and perform 27 percent faster than surgeons who don’t.
The cost of games
It’s no secret that developing great/engaging games takes a lot time, research and strategic planning (you can read more about it here and here), in addition to money. If funding is an issue, you can tap into local colleges. Look up colleges in your area with good digital arts or game design programs and develop a relationship with the professor spearheading the program. Students often prefer working on projects that solve real-world problems, and a partnership with a nonprofit can be a steady stream of ideas for student projects, making the partnership a win-win for both sides. If the quality of games produced in a school environment is of a concern, not to worry, Unsavory is an example of a game that was developed at the University of Miami School of Communication, and it’s pretty great!
Another low cost option is to research out-of-the-box solutions such as “Edventure Builder” which allows you to select a game mechanic, upload your own graphics, photos and content and then publish to a cellphone (35 percent of game play happens on a mobile device anyway).
If this post didn’t convince you about the power of games, perhaps Daphne Bavelier, a brain scientist, will in this TED talk: