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Drew Taylor November 25, 2009


Taking over from where rock music, movies and gangsta rap left off, video games have become the new poster child for moral decay in today’s society.

In the last few weeks alone, the media has labelled games as ‘murder simulators’, linked them to depression and addiction, held them accountable for childhood obesity and quoted Australian politicians who believe games do little more than deliver ‘depraved sex and extreme violence’ to minors.

To be fair, not all games are about plumbers and princesses and I admit to having an issue with the level of content found in a number of games currently on the market. But what grieves me about these headlines is the way in which they ignore a whole other aspect of games.

Look beyond the sensationalism and stereotyping, and the world of gaming that I inhabit includes altruism and philanthropy. It’s a place where individuals and companies are, to use a gaming term, ‘collecting hearts’ and changing lives.

One particular arena where games are making this impact is in physical and psychological rehabilitation and therapy.

‘Wii-hab’ (the use of the Wii console in rehabilitation) has seen success in stroke therapy, increasing coordination, has improved the quality of life of residents in nursing homes, and also produced ‘striking results’ with people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. In an eight-week study conducted by the Medical College of Georgia in the US, significant improvements in movement, fine motor skills and energy levels were experienced by all participants, and there was a decrease in their levels of depression.

Equally, ‘old school’ games such as Space Invaders have been repurposed to aid adolescents with anger issues. Last month, researchers at the Children’s Hospital Boston incorporated the use of a heart monitor to increase difficulty in controlling the game as the patient’s heart rate increases. Players are encouraged to manage their heart rate and calm themselves down, preparing them for dealing with stressful situations in real life.

Elsewhere, games such as Earthquake in Zipland have been developed to help children of divorce work through issues, controllers have been adapted to allow the physically disabled to engage in stimulated play, and MMOs (massively multiplayer online games) and virtual worlds, such as Brigadoon Island in SecondLife, have provided spaces for people suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome and autism to find encouragement and understanding.

Being the father of three-year-old triplets, two of whom are autistic, the use of gaming technology to reach into their ‘private’ world offers yet another avenue of hope.

Then there are ‘serious games’ that extend into the area of pre-awareness and social education. Designed to make a difference in the lives and minds of its players, serious games have been developed to educate about work safety practices and the complexities of humanitarian aid, explore the negative effects of terrorism and counter-terrorism, and, with Australian web based game Reach Out Central, provide practical information and support services for troubled youth.

One of the most successful serious games is HopeLab’s ReMission, a third person shooter that not only teaches young people about dealing with cancer, but has also helped with increasing the success of treatment.

Charity fundraising is another arena. Blizzard, the maker of MMO World of Warcraft, recently created exclusive in-game pets, and is currently donating 50 per cent of the proceeds towards the Make-A-Wish Foundation. While charity publisher OneBigGame has more than 15 games in development to raise funds for its charities, starting with Zoe Mode, a puzzler for the Xbox Live Arcade.

Read in Full:  http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=17822

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