How gaming impacts the world positively

One of the greatest things about the tech revolution is just how much fun it can be at its best. Right now, that fun is extending into places it never existed before, creating new industries and business models. (And it might even boost some legacy industries, too.) 

We’ve heard plenty in recent years about gamification in business. And the field’s pioneers are increasingly learning from experience how to make it work — in other words, how to make it both effective and fun. But, thanks to four researchers from Brigham Young University, we’re now seeing evidence that shared electronic gameplay can promote collaboration and productivity even when teams are playing conventional games. And the improvements can be substantial. 

File photo
James Barrood of the New Jersey Tech Council.

Maybe that shouldn’t be a shock. As Ladders reports, BYU’s researchers pointed to ways in which video games help people maximize focus, reinforce repetition, promote trust and communication among people who didn’t previously know each other, and support the brain’s ability to remember and organize information. It would almost be more surprising if that didn’t improve productivity. 

Those business benefits are the excuse I used recently when I permanently relocated our family’s Xbox to the Tech Council’s New Brunswick office — much to my daughters’ chagrin. But, then, they’re getting some authentic benefits from gamification, too. As creators and collaborators on “Roblox,” they’re building friendships through collaborative play they direct themselves, in appealing environments that actually do spark their imaginations. “Roblox” even gives them a gentle introduction to coding, with its kid-friendly tools for building new games. From all I can see, when they’re on “Roblox,” they’re having the positive experience you’d hope “social” would be. 

We’re all familiar with the simulation elements of games, but many of us don’t realize how they can be used to build empathy by sharing the experiences of other human beings. Some of us encountered this first a couple of years ago with the profoundly moving game “ThatDragonCancer,” built by Ryan and Amy Green to share their family’s experience living through the life and death of their son Joel. More recently, as The New York Times reported, the game “Chinese Parents” has been helping Chinese youth and their parents understand each other better, by simulating the experience of raising a child from birth to college. Those players are experiencing the game as fun — but a very deep and connected form of fun. 

With the kind of brain impact that videogames can clearly have, they might even be able to offer some clinical benefits. And we’re seeing companies attempt to program games that target specific cognitive systems, aiming to ameliorate ADHD and several other conditions. If that work continues to progress, games might soon complement or supplant existing therapies. And, of course, a videogame can be cost-effectively “administered” virtually anywhere. 

Finally, as conventional sports face growing challenges and declining viewership, they just might be saved by the growth of online sports betting. That issue is getting plenty of attention in New Jersey, thanks to its recent legalization here. (If you’re interested in the impact and implications of online sports betting, join us at the Tech Council’s April 11 Venture Conference at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, where DraftKings co-founder Matt Kalish will keynote and share his unique insight at the center of this fast-growing industry.) 

We’ve all experienced plenty of negativity surrounding tech lately, some of it deserved. But wouldn’t it be great if — after all that — the future is fun?

James Barrood is CEO and president, New Jersey Tech Council.