Gaming for Good

Are slacker gamers the new super-philanthropists?

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For example, if you spent 10 hours working at a local branch of Habitat for Humanity, you might get a new virtual tool. If you donated blood at the Red Cross, you could earn virtual blood transfusions that would keep you going even as you get torn apart by alien zombies. Because heroic quests and the cultivation of community are both core elements in gaming environments, the opportunities to integrate philanthropic components are vast.

So are the opportunities to use gaming platforms to generate insight into charitable trends and behavior. Zynga knows which cities give the most through its games. (In the U.S., it's Los Angeles, Houston, and Phoenix.) It knows which types of charities receive the most support (kids and animals). Presumably, over time, gaming platforms will develop Amazon-like abilities to know exactly how to present increasingly relevant philanthropic opportunities to players. They'll know precisely when players are most likely to respond to such offers. If your past behavior shows that you tend to purchase philanthropic items during extended bouts of game-play, for example, you may not actually see such offers until you've been playing for five consecutive hours.

Game developers, in short, have an opportunity to make philanthropy more contextual, more efficient, and ultimately more productive. In time, even the bloodiest crime sprees in Grand Theft Auto may be spattered with faint halos of altruism. For diehard sociopaths, the future is looking darker every day.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • William of Purple||

    I'll post a comment after one more level

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Meet the Press has taken a break from the RACISM beat in order to delve in excruciating detail into the widespread vicious abuse of women in American society.

  • Rev-Match||

    Don't worry, Melitha Harrith Perry's show has gotten the race-baiting train moving again.

  • craiginmass||

    I have to guess that most reason contributors have lots of spare time and enjoy playing video games. Other than that, there is not much point to filling space with such crap.

  • Christophe||

    You left out the coolest application: http://fold.it/portal/

    Basically, using human minds to help solve protein folding by turning it into a puzzle game. The usefulness isn't incidental (like in your examples), it's part and parcel of the product.

  • Vincent Milburn||

    What I'm getting is that a lot of people with excess energy and drive have an existential crisis of sorts and a lack of meaningful goals, and video games superficially fill this void. I struggle with goal setting myself, especially after I got out of college a few years ago and lost the structure of childhood and school. If only we could find a way to motivate these people and put them to better use in the real world.

  • VicRattlehead||

    why so we can be taxed into oblivion? I do a job, its meaningless to me other than as a means to earn money for a home life
    theres no greater good or goals served because the real world doesnt have a greater purpose to offer than to just not die.
    In virtual worlds i can battle across chasms of space or fight a dragon armed only with a sword and my wits
    does it ultimately have purpose- no
    but the better question is what purpose does living serve or how purposeless has our world made survival that existential crisis are only resolvable by dreams of grandeur?
    basically;
    who are you to say what the greater purpose is when all our works and lives will be rendered meaningless once the sun expands and engulfs the earth when it becomes a red giant. lest we leave this rock and reach for the stars we have no purpose.

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