FEATURE1 September 2021

Positive play: Gaming for a better world

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Gaming could play an important role for wellbeing, as well as helping people understand the trade-offs needed to make the world a better place. By Liam Kay.

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Imagine settling down to an evening of playing video games with friends. You choose a car-racing game and start searching for your race vehicle. One of the options has a hybrid engine and, from past experience, you know that car could help you win. Could that nudge persuade you to buy a hybrid car in real life?

There are almost 2.7 billion gamers in the world today. Much has been written about whether video games can incite violence among players, and research has largely debunked that idea. But is the inverse true? Can games help embed good behaviour, and lead players to make life choices that are good for themselves, their communities and the environment?

Leigh Caldwell, partner at Irrational Agency, says that ideas about how games can help develop positive behaviours in players have their roots in behavioural psychology. He argues that humans use “System 3 thinking” – the imagination – to gain mental rewards for good behaviours through playing games, which helps people ...