play games. change the world.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.”

– George Bernard Shaw

Jane McGonigal

I really began to believe in the power of games while teaching in Vietnam.  On 8:00 pm on a Saturday night, peering into the eyes of 25 spent and lifeless teens, I found myself relenting to the plea “Teacher! Play game!” maybe more than many would find an “appropriate” amount.  But . . . life is short. So let’s play a game. Or three.

What many didn’t understand was that I was simply tricking the kids into learning.  Never was a student more motivated to learn new material than when playing an intense round of Slap the Desk where things inevitably got a bit rowdy. In an Asian culture especially, the threat of losing face by letting your team down was enough to get any student, regardless of age, committed to the task at hand.  And believe me, when the AC went out, things got sweaty.  I tricked those unassuming students into using their creativity (something many Asian cultures struggle with), cooperating with their classmates, focusing on an specific intent and goal and dare I say it … laughing.

This month’s Elle Magazine featured an article revealing the power of games in boosting confidence, inspiring positivity, and believe it or not, changing the world.  Jane McGonigal, a professional gamer, uses her PhD intelligence and talented skill-set to develop games aimed at solving  the world’s problems ranging from our dependence on natural resources to alleviating poverty.  She states in Elle, ‘“the planet is now spending more than 3 billion hours a week on gaming.’ But as she told the audience at TED, ‘that’s not nearly enough time playing games.  If we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict and obesity I believe we need to aspire to play 21 billion hours a week by the end of the next decade.’”  McGonigal designs extremely detailed and strategic Alternate Realty Games (ARGs), which incorporate both online and real world tasks, centered around a specific cause or task.  In other words, she merges the conventional video and computer gaming world with actual reality to not only create change in the world, but also to foster positive transformations in the participants as well.  Let the games begin.

IMAGINE – if you would –  what the next 20 years would look like if today’s youth played games to end climate change and foster positivity rather than to kill their neighbor or invade Iraq . . .

Check out the article in Elle at

About aweinfur

Learning and Organizational Change graduate student at Northwestern University. Yogi. Happy.
This entry was posted in Art, Quotes, Saigon, Southeast Asia, Teaching, Vietnam and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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