In their new book Power Play: How Video Games Can Save the World, Asi Burak and Laura Parker make a compelling case that video games can have a positive impact on a global scale. I asked Asi to speak with me about his experience co-authoring Power Play and ways we can support games and gaming for good.
Here’s what I learned:
Power, money, and influence don’t guarantee a seamless development process
Asi pointed out that even if you’re a Supreme Court Justice like the Honorable Sandra Day O’Connor, who started iCivics or nobility like Prince Fahad bin Faisal Al Saud, who founded NA3AM Games, breaking ground in a relatively new medium is extremely difficult. When it comes to making socially impactful games, securing partners and funding can be an uphill battle since, as Asi puts it: “People are risk adverse and want you to show them how it’s going to work.”
Socially impactful games need passionate people at every level
In every case study profiled in Power Play, there are grassroots advocates and champions that poured their efforts and energy into developing games. Asi recalled that Macon Money’s success fell on the shoulders of one woman in Georgia whose passion and dedicated work carried the project forward. Macon Money was funded by the Knight Foundation and the main premise was determined in New York, but given its goal of fostering a sense of community between people from different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds in Macon, Georgia, the project needed someone on the ground to convince local people and businesses to play along (and together!).
It’s better to be restless than negative
The optimistic take that video games can improve the world is inspiring and a welcome addition to the ongoing discussion about how technology affects our lives. It was also important to Asi and Laura that they “balance the optimism and potential with realities” by sharing lessons learned, showing evidence and evaluation, and discussing where projects came up short. When it comes to the games profiled in Power Play, they all started with someone’s restlessness or frustration with a problem. Asi explained, “For Sandra Day O’Connor it was the status of civics education in the United States…something bothers them and they can’t sleep at night, so they choose to make a video game.” While it may be easy to resign ourselves to negativity when faced with a serious issue or to think it’s beyond our capabilities to change the world, it’s better to be restless and think, “How can I help?”
Media literacy needs advocates like you and me
The current gap in media literacy between youth and their parents is an issue that makes Asi restless, and that sends him into “ambassador mode” on walks, in meetings, and at social events. This gap contributes to the perception that games only provide shallow or frivolous experiences. Asi is always advocating and educating those around him about the value of games, and likes to recommend accessible and artistic independent games for beginners, like Inside, Firewatch, and The Last Guardian. Having a high level of media literacy among the public opens exciting possibilities and solutions to the world’s future problems. Asi is most energized by the potential for virtual reality and neurogaming to change the field of medicine, and pointed to Neuroscape’s work in using video games to support treatment of brain disorders such as ADHD, Autism, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Here at the Ad Council, we’ve seen firsthand how games inspire positive behavioral change and develop empathy among players. We’ve developed games for our campaigns and we’re working with gaming influencers and publishers to help players connect meaningfully with our campaign messages via our Game for Good initiative. We’ll be reading Power Play in the coming weeks to learn more, and hope to hear from you – which books and games should we play as we continue to game for good?