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Gaming for Social Impact

“Games aren’t just filler in education. They have the ability to introduce, reinforce, or even assess learning of a given topic.” – Kara Carrero

Games are fun. But what if we told you that we think that games can be so much more? What if games could not only teach, but evoke empathy, and drive action toward social impact? At TCC Group, we think games have interesting roles to play in helping effect change. That’s right, those hours spent playing board games, role-playing games, and even those video games – all highly engaging vehicles for entertainment and escape that can support positive social impact.

Gaming offers venues through which we can explore, understand, empathize, and practice steps toward action. The type of social learning and identification gaming offers is essential for imagining and implementing transformative solutions with the potential to generate lasting positive social impact. It can be a tool that can be leveraged for more. In this blog series, we will be offering our thoughts and those of others as we explore gaming’s role in affecting positive change.

Now you might not be alone in asking, “Positive social impact? Aren’t games at best good for passing time and possibly developing some basic skills and at worst possible instigators of harm in real life?”. There has certainly been enough negative press about their effects- a quick Google search will bring you to approximately 88 million links to resources arguing that violent video games lead to antisocial behavior. All the way back to the early 1980s one of the first role-playing games, Dungeons & Dragons, was pilloried as causing antisocial behavior and a loss of faith in organized religion, among other ills.

This was followed in the 1990s with concerns about computer “screen time,” which displaced decades of expert (and parental) worry about the many hours children spent in front of televisions. Given the ubiquity of numerous electronic platforms these days, especially our phones and tablets, we now just worry about time spent on “devices.”

“Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.” – Abraham Maslow

The reality is that adults, along with children, now spend substantial amounts of time gaming in all its many forms. And electronic gaming has come to rival more traditional forms of entertainment—especially among younger generations. There is also already a substantial history of gaming being used for educational purposes. From the Stickybear series of “edutainment” software, teaching math facts decades ago to students practicing language arts with platforms such as Lexia Core 5 today, gaming has established itself as an effective tool for learning while entertaining.

In the social sector, gaming is being increasingly used to support individuals, helping them face psychological challenges, build emotional connection and empathy, and develop meaningful relationships. For example, a growing body of research has established the value of gaming in helping to address PTSD and other psychosocial disorders. Resources such as The Poverty Simulation, which enables gamers to adopt the roles of family members seeking to meet their basic needs, help to build understanding and empathy across economic divides. And the rise of in-person and interactive, communal gaming experiences continues to lift up and strengthen social learning and connection for individuals who may be isolated due to identity, disability, geography, or a combination of factors.

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct.” – Carl Jung

The gift of gaming is that it requires participants to think beyond themselves and imagine and identify with others whose lives and needs and motivations may be very different. This process of walking in someone else’s shoes through gaming also requires participants to consider the ways that their actions impact others.

At the same time, most current social learning games do not directly encourage, much less enable, taking action. This is the opportunity that most excites us at TCC Group: partnering with developers, funders, nonprofits, and the gaming community to craft experiences that go beyond building understanding and empathy to motivating and facilitating participants to begin to transform their world for the better.

We will never argue that playing 15 minutes of FreeCell, or a round or two of Uno will dramatically change lives. (Although they may relieve some stress for the gamers.) But the centrality of gaming in the lives of billions of individuals suggests a reach across social, cultural, and political differences that traditional sources of public communication, education, and action no longer enjoy. As we think about how to engage more and more individuals in the process of achieving lasting positive social impact, we will do very well to give gaming a try.

And so, we invite you to play a game. Think about the impact it had on you. Think about what gaming could do for you and for others. And then reach out to us, tell us your thoughts. We would love to hear them.

For more on gaming through the lens of social impact, click here to read our key takeaways from our attendance at GenCon last month.
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