10 Ways Video Games Secretly Save The World
Gamers have it tough. When we’re not being told one of our favorite hobbies will turn us into rabid balls of psychosis we’re being looked down upon for wasting our time. But as it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth. In a satisfying turn of events, many video games have stepped up not only to defend their good name, but to prove that they actually make the world a better place. Check out the following ways electronic entertainment thanklessly toils behind the scenes.
10World of Warcraft Fights Disease
Launched in 2004, the online role-playing game World of Warcraft is quite possibly the most famous game ever made. Putting its millions of players into the pointy shoes of adventurers in the world of Azeroth, WoW provides a much needed escape from the hassles of everyday life. Most of the time.
In September of 2005 a virtual virus began to spread through the game’s online population. Called “Corrupted Blood,” the illness was intended only to strike the strongest of characters, who wouldn’t have been overly inconvenienced. Due to a programming error however, the disease was able to jump to anyone near the infected, including super-weak new characters who were killed nearly instantly. The virus spread and quickly grew to epidemic proportions, with people fleeing the cities and quarantines being established.
And it could not have worked out any better. Real-world epidemiologists caught wind of the incident and used it as a model to study the spread of disease. Apparently, despite sophisticated mathematical models based on past epidemics, tracking pandemic disease is pretty hard. It is impossible to replicate the unpredictable human element in traditional models, but not here. In WoW’s virtual disease lab, humans were in control of the characters, ignoring quarantines to assist the infected, fleeing to other cities, or just wandering through plague zones out of curiosity. The crisis provided invaluable data on the epidemic phenomenon, and even appeared in a few academic papers on the subject.
9Online Gaming Saves the Economy
Many online games – like World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and Second Life — have massive, sophisticated economies. Players work for currency by killing monsters and completing objectives and then spend that money in virtual shops. That work means that players aren’t likely to just throw their money around; it represents their time and effort and they therefore tend to be pretty careful with it. This is why economists like video games.
These games are the perfect models for testing new economic concepts; they are full of real people spending money that may as well be real, but there aren’t any real consequences if the experiment fails. That sort of large-scale testing is simply too risky to attempt in the real world. It’s for this reason that many economists have turned to online games to simulate their theories, tweaking and smoothing them out in the safety of a virtual world. This has removed an economic roadblock that’s been in place since the 1960s, paving the way for a more perfect financial system. So when your bank doesn’t collapse in 20 years be sure to remember the millions of gamers plugging away in front of their computer screens.
8Multiplayer Games Train the Leaders of Tomorrow
Human beings are social creatures. For the most part we find something more enjoyable if it has some sort of social element. This is where online multiplayer games come in, allowing gamers to come together and share their favorite pastime. Of course, human beings can also be a pretty hostile lot, requiring a strong leader to unify the group. And it’s this demand that’s cranking out the CEOs of the future.
Whether it’s a guild in World of Warcraft or a corporation in EVE Online, it needs a capable leader. These guys have to be able to coordinate the actions of sometimes thousands of players, mediate disputes, and motivate the members, all while ensuring that everyone is still having fun — it is a game, after all. These demands aren’t so different from those faced by real-world business leaders, and people like Trey Ratcliff, founder of John Galt Games, know that first hand. After soaking up his share of business knowledge in EVE, he started his own video game company.
And he’s not the only one that recognizes these games’ training potential; an article in the Harvard Business Review described the leadership abilities honed by online games as “crucial to the future of business.” So maybe take it easy on your raid leader, he may actually be your boss someday.
7Military Games Save Lives on the Battlefield
The word “simulator” gets thrown around a lot in the video game industry. More often than not that just means the game ends up involving a lot of tedious numbers, but not always. A very special set of games developed by the US military creates an ultra-realistic simulation of real-world combat scenarios, and is used to prepare soldiers for the field.
Pouring $50 million into the project, the US Army obviously needs no convincing of the perks of gaming. Patching together elements with military training potential from the most popular commercial games, these simulators have been carefully designed to provide recruits with some much needed experience. One sim involves preparing soldiers for the very real possibility of a roadside ambush, providing them with life-saving instructions for dealing with an insanely deadly situation. Over 3,000 copies of just this one game have been produced and distributed to every branch of the military. Honestly, I’d kind of like a copy too.
6The Nintendo Wii Aids Physical Therapy
Every once in a while, a game company will decide that what people want to do with their downtown is exercise. They are wrong. But despite these fitness games’ typically atrocious sales, a new movement-based gaming device will come along a few years later, fading out just as quickly. Sometimes though, one of these inventions will escape this sedentary cycle and stick around for one reason or another.
Like the Wii. When released in 2006, this movement-sensing console was reasonably popular, but eventually everyone realized that standing to play games was kind of unnecessary and uncomfortable. It lagged behind the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 for years, but not in the offices of physical therapists. It was quickly discovered that the repetitive and sometimes strenuous actions demanded by the machine made it perfect for the rehabilitation of patients recovering from injuries like strokes and broken bones. The advantage of this “Wiihabilitation” was that it removed the tedium of more conventional therapy techniques and kept the mind off of any discomfort. The result was that patients found themselves completing their therapy, and therefore their recovery, much more quickly. That’s all well and good, but the Wii still has millions of broken TVs to answer for.
5Gaming with Your Kids Improves Their Self Esteem
In general, children are terrible at pretty much everything. Adults don’t hold that against them though, because they’re still getting the hang of this “life” thing. But kids don’t seem to understand the learning curve, and tend to get a bit down when they make a mistake. So how do you teach them to roll with the punches while placating their short attention span?
You break out the Xbox. According to psychologist Dr. Randy Kulman video games provide the perfect opportunity to teach children how to make a “successful” mistake – one you learn from rather than beat yourself up over. There’s a catch, though; you have to be pretty awful at the game. This sets up a situation in which you are bound to mess up, allowing your kid to watch you work around the issue instead of just giving up. The idea is that this training will carry over into the real world, providing your offspring with the confidence and critical thinking skills needed to carry on through difficulties. And since your tech-addicted 8-year-old is almost certainly better at any given game than you anyway, that’s a nice little confidence boost as well.
4Tetris Eases Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Everyone likes, or at least occasionally tolerates, Tetris. This Russian mini-game has been played by millions, mostly because no electronic device made in the last 30 years has come without it. But the addictive block-stacking is good for more than just whiling away lengthy commutes, it can actually help erase bad memories.
Researchers at Oxford University have found that Tetris has the curious ability to ease the symptoms of PTSD. In an experiment, 40 volunteers were shown extremely graphic images and then given some time for them to sink in. After 30 minutes, half of the group played the game while the others did not. Amazingly, the Tetris players reported far fewer flashbacks over the following week. Researchers believe this is because the mental activity required to play the game interferes with the brain’s ability to store memories. There are limits to this effect, however; it only dulls memories that were stored within hours of playing. Still, this could open the door for more effective anxiety-relieving methods down the road. Then the only problem will be getting that song out of your head.
3Evony Saved a Disabled Man’s Life
Evony is an online medieval strategy game playable from a web browser. You may very well have seen one of the multitudes of annoying banner ads saying exactly that. But what you may not know, and what makes those infuriating ads almost bearable, is that the game kept a man from burning alive a few years back.
Bob Chambers, then 51, suffered from muscular dystrophy which severely limited his movement. During an Evony session one morning a fire broke out in his living room, which he was completely unable to escape. Terrified, he turned to the online gaming community for assistance. Using a specialized keyboard he sent a desperate plea for help, reaching fellow gamers from several distant states who contacted the authorities in Chambers’ hometown. Luckily, firefighters arrived in time to carry the shaken man safely from the scene, despite skeptical 911 operators initially writing the bizarre incident off as a prank. Moral of the story: Not all online gamers are sadistic misanthropes. Go figure.
2World of Warcraft Protected Children from a Wild Animal
People can, and regularly do, argue all day about gaming corrupting youth. And in the case of mindlessly violent examples like Call of Duty 57 I might even agree; half of the kids you encounter in those games seem to be auditioning for the KKK. But not all virtual entertainment is out to brainwash children into racist, homophobic misogynists, sometimes they can even teach some pretty useful skills.
When 12 year old Norwegian boy Hans Jorgen Olsen and his sister got the attention of an angry moose during a walk, he knew exactly what to do. Thanks to his experience in WoW, he knew that many enraged animals can be made to leave by playing dead. Just like his online character, Olsen used the “Feign Death” ability after luring the beast from his sibling to trick it into losing interest and returning to the wilderness. Both he and his sister walked away unscathed, presumably to turn in their quests and hit the auction house.
1America’s Army Makes You a Life Saver
America’s Army is a military simulation game developed by the US Army as a recruitment tool. Included in its ultra-realistic approach to the combat game genre is an in-depth tutorial for those that choose to play as a medic. Aside from a lot of button tapping, this pseudo med school provides instruction that is as relevant in the real world as it is in a virtual war zone. And a North Carolina man by the name of Paxton Galvanek has proof.
In 2007, Galvanek was out for a drive when an SUV flipped in front of him. Pulling over to assist the victims, he suddenly found himself in a situation pulled straight from one of his favorite video games, America’s Army. After pulling one of the men from the wreck, he turned his attention to the other, who had sustained a serious hand injury. Several fingers had been ripped off in the crash and the man was bleeding heavily. Having no real medical experience but remembering his virtual training, he applied pressure to the wound and instructed his unexpected patient to keep his hand above his head to minimize blood loss. Due to Galvanek’s gaming habit, the two men escaped the ordeal with relatively minor injuries. It’s just a good thing he hadn’t been a Mario fan; the last thing crash victims need is a fistful of hallucinogenic mushrooms crammed down their throats.
Alex is just a guy who enjoys writing. And zombies. And occasionally tacos.