I have been reflecting a lot recently during the lockdown on video games and their potential in new idea creation and as a perfect platform to test real world processes. It has been a few months since the world went into lockdown over the situation with the Covid-19 Pandemic, and while restrictions are easing in most parts of the world, we still have along way to go before we can completely conquer the virus. Recently there have been spikes in cases in numerous countries, as people try go back to normal and with global travel trying to start up again (too soon may I add!). With all the spare time I had the last few months at home, I started playing some of my old skool Super Nintendo games on my retro gaming console (I also did a lot of productive stuff too... I swear!). I started playing Civilisation I, a game I loved growing up and was curious how well would it play today nearly 30 years after its initial release. In light of the events playing out in the world outside my room and the ideas being postulated from different sections of society on how to stop this virus and how we can support our communities better now and in the future, it occurred to me that there is so much potential for video games to teach us better ways to react to all types of crises that plague (no pun intended) our planet.
Civilisation I Intro - Source - Nookrium
While Civilisation I is quite dated now, various sequels have improved on graphics as well as created a more in-depth and complex system to challenge you in creating a prosperous society. In the time I spent re-playing the game, I was engrossed in creating the most powerful and technically advanced society and clocked up many hours of gameplay. I must say that I enjoyed the nostalgic trip back to my youth, as the game takes you from the first settlers of a chosen civilisation and their progression all the way up to space exploration and world domination. Having not much experience with the many sequels of the game, I wonder how the game has progressed through the years. I feel this type of game with today's computing power and technological advancements has the potential as not just a fun strategy game but also as a way of teaching people about the complexities of societies and giving them a space to create new ideas in how to tackle societal problem in a fun and safe environment. Where Civilisation I and its sequels have focused on known societal structures throughout history, in future games why not release people of these confinements and let them have more say in creating new thought processes in how societies can be and test how they interact with other know societal structures. We are seeing more games being released that give the player more free reign to create and build in their own way and it is this openness and giving a platform for testing their creations that can help impact how we deal with the issues in real life.
Other games I have experienced also give a brief glimpse at the potential of opening up these digital worlds to harness its players imaginations and with the multitude of online sharing platforms like YouTube, Twitch etc, players are passing on their creations to be used with others worldwide. One of my favourite games of all time, Fallout 4, uses settlement building (especially in the Contraptions DLC) to give its players the opportunity to get creative and let their minds go wild and build a multitude of contraptions and allow endless ways to use them. Adding different types of circuit boards, logic gates, lights etc gave the settlement building part of the game a new lease of life and kept player in the Fallout world long after the main story was completed. No Man's Sky is another game that shows promise in how much freedom and creative building it allows its players to perform. Its focus is towards creative construction to help you travel the galaxy that's planets are procedurally generated so no two games are the same. I have not played No Man's Sky yet but I am curious to try it out as I keep hearing that the game is improving with new and improved features added in every new update. From reviews I have read on this game, I still does not go far enough to really engage the player in the idea creation I am talking about and I have heard that there can be a certain monotonousness to some of the tasks in collecting minerals to build spaceships. It is however a step in the right direction.
Fallout 4 Contraptions DLC - Source - Fandom Games
If we look at Minecraft, it has become so popular and has spanned many versions and moved into different mediums like Film, Print and TV. Minecraft has also found a home in the classroom where it is being used to teach kids in various fields like programming, history and the sciences to name a few and Microsoft and Mojang have released a free education pack for kids who are stuck home in quarantine. Kids love the freedom that the Minecraft world gives them to create what they are passionate about with very few limitations. All these games have teased the potential of more open games that give you the building blocks to create and interact with the game in a multitude of ways that best suits your personal approach. These games have yet to really maximise the potential user centred creation and wield its power in the main aspects of the games plot. With Fallout 4, it is a side game that involves building settlements that has no impact of the story of the game, with Minecraft there is no real plot, as it is just focused on building (there is a story mode version but its not enough) and with No Man's Sky it feels too limited in what you can create. We have seen that more in-depth and complex games are getting popular and young people can grasp technical concepts and complex tasks very well. We can see games like Football Manager, Kerbal Space Program, Rome: Total War 2 that have a certain complexities to them becoming more popular and that engaging stories, realistic simulations and user centred creation can be combined to make an entertaining video game that also has real world application.
I envisage a future where video games will play an important yet entertaining role in our society. Video games will have multiple purposes, were they can be fun, educational, inspiring, creative and also help us tackle the many issues we have in the world at the moment. I must give the game, What Remains of Edith Finch, a shout out for its amazing approach to storytelling and its ability to put the user in the shoes of the characters in a way that helps you understand and really empathise with issues many people struggle with, like depression, anxiety and a death. Video games are only harnessing a limited amount of their potential capacity to engage users but also learn important processes that can have benefit to our society. We see video games and simulations already in use for scientific research or military proposes but it would be so much more powerful and beneficial if everyone had access to a platform that engaged them in solving real world issues on a medium that they understand and are comfortable with. It would be bringing the idea of Citizen Science to another level. In a perfect world, a game similar to Plague Inc, but with more detail and realism could have helped create the best course of action to limit the spread of the virus and help us improve our global communication during situations like the Covid-19 pandemic. Plague Inc has been used in classrooms to teach students on pandemics and disease control in a more engaging way. Robinson et al. investigated how gamification can have a benefit in higher education and shows with Plague Inc as an example of how the use of games along with an instructor to delve deeper into the simulations can help students understand complex topics with more ease (Robinson et al.).
What Remains of Edith Finch - Source - Xbox
Last week, a video game by Akili Interactive called EndeavorRX passed FDA approval and is to be prescribed to patients to help with ADHD. Video games, despite the overarching belief that they are bad for you, actually can be a benefit in different situations and the negative stigma of video games is slowly losing hold. The aspect of video games that can lead to more negative habits and health is that addictiveness of them which suck up all your free time leaving no time to pursue more healthy activities like exercise, healthy eating, and social interaction. Finding a way to include video games as part of a healthy lifestyle especially when growing up is key and using it as a learning tool in a young persons development along side more traditional and alternative learning styles would prove fruitful.
The first Civilisation game was released in 1991 which is 29 years ago, I was impressed with it back then and I must say, I had a lot of fun taking my nostalgic trip back to my youth and playing it now in these crazy time of 2020. The difference between now and then is with the advancement of technology, video games like civilisation that tests players on how to create and manage a successful society can have more impact in how we can improve and protect our society. Video games are becoming increasingly realistic simulations of real life, not just in a visual sense but also in how we can interact in things in the world. It is the perfect area to invest in as a testing ground for overcome real world problems. While there are issues in the ideas I propose around privacy, ownership of ideas and health, I need time to ponder on this more and think of ways that these pitfalls could be eliminated.
Robinson, L. A., et al. ‘The Use of Gamification in the Teaching of Disease Epidemics and Pandemics’. FEMS Microbiology Letters, vol. 365, no. 11, June 2018. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.1093/femsle/fny111.