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How Video Games Can Save The World

Believe it or not, but the time spent worldwide playing online games over a single week clocks in at no less than three billion hours. To some, this sounds like an astronomical amount of wasted time. But according to the Institute for the Future, we'll need to play a lot more often than that if we want to solve the most urgent of our global problems.

At least according to their representative Jane McGonigal, speaking at a recent TED conference. "If we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity, I believe that we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week, by the end of the next decade."

The crux of her argument? In game worlds, like World of Warcraft, players achieve more than they ordinarily think is possible; plus, they're far more willing to collaborate and cooperate. "When we're in game worlds I believe that many of us become the best version of ourselves, the most likely to help at a moment's notice, the most likely to stick with a problem as long at it takes, to get up after failure and try again. And in real life, when we face failure, when we confront obstacles, we often don't feel that way. We feel overcome. We feel overwhelmed. We feel anxious, maybe depressed, frustrated or cynical. We never have those feelings when we're playing games."

Here is her complete presentation. Just click on the image, and you'll be taken to the TED website.

Click on the image to view the entire presentation

What exactly is it about games that makes the impossible feel possible? And can this translate from games to the real world? In other words, gamers learn to become heroes in virtual worlds--why shouldn't they apply these hero-making skills in their actual lives? Can video games change the world for the better?

A gross exaggeration? Maybe. But here's some food for thought: 5.93 million years ago our earliest primate human ancestors first stood upright. To date, World of Warcraft gamers have collectively spent 5.93 million years solving the virtual problems of Azeroth.

What we're witnessing amounts to no less than a mass exodus to virtual worlds and online game environments.

"This makes perfect sense, because gamers can achieve more in online worlds than they can in real life," explains McGonigal. "They can have stronger social relationships in games than they can have in real life. They get better feedback and feel more rewarded in games than they do in real life."

So it makes sense that gamers would prefer to spend their time in virtual worlds over the real world, where rewards are harder to come by. But it's hardly an optimal situation. Solution? According to McGonigal "We have to start making the real world more like a game."

Making The Real World More Like a Game

Jesse Schell, a Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, says that the gamification of the real world is here already. And because sensor technology is becoming more mainstream, the potential for game play in our day-to-day lives is becoming likelier.

"We're getting to the point where every soda can and every cereal box is going to have a CPU, a screen and a camera on board it, and a wi-fi connector so that it can be connected to the Internet," predicts Schell.

For instance, sensors can be used to create a game out of a toothbrush. "You'll get up in the morning to brush your teeth and the toothbrush can sense that you're brushing your teeth. So hey, good job for you, 10 points for brushing your teeth." Who cares? The toothpaste company--the more you brush, the more toothpaste you use.

Sensors can also be used to create a game out of a cereal box. "You go to breakfast, there's the corn flakes. There is a little web game that you can play while you eat, instead of reading the back, you play a game while you eat your corn flakes, and you get that and you get ten points just for eating the corn flakes. Then it turns out you can see your list of friends who also have corn flakes and the scores they got because you're wi-fi and Facebook connected and everything. And so you get 5 bonus points because you just beat out one of your friends at the corn flakes game."

And sensors can even be used to create a game out of your driving. "And if anybody has the new Ford hybrid car -- okay, I got it -- it's got a speedometer and it's got a gas gauge, and what are those leaves? What the hell is that? The more gas you save, the more the plant grows. They put a virtual pet in your car, and it changes the way people drive. Games have crept out and they're going everywhere."

Schell points out that there may also be another, unintended benefit to perma-surveillance. Tracking sensors will record our behavior for posterity, in turn elevating our self-awareness. Might we alter our actions for the better because of it? Schell thinks that "it's possible that [games] will inspire us to be better people," if designed right.

Click on the image below to check out Schell's entire presentation. Once you click on the image, you'll be taken to the YouTube presentation.

Do games make us better people? Will the real world eventually turn into a game? It's too early to say for sure, but perhaps it is time to position your portfolio for this new trend.

Video Game Publishers

Although today's leading video game publishers still have some way to go before they can create the real-world games described above, it makes sense that they'll be the ones to get there first, mainly because of their expertise and technology. Here is a list of video game publishers to keep an eye on:
  • Electronic Arts (ERTS): Develops, markets, publishes, and distributes video game software and content. Some of its famous brands include Need for Speed, The Sims, Spore, Dead Space, Mass Effect, and EA SPORTS. It also co-publishes video games that are developed and published by other companies, including the MTV Games/Harmonix series Rock Band and the Crytek series Crysis.
  • THQ Inc. (THQI): Develops, publishes, and distributes interactive entertainment software for various game systems. It offers its software for home video game consoles; handheld platforms; wireless devices, such as iPhone, iTouch and iPad; and personal computers (PC), including games played online.
  • Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI): Makers of Monsters vs. Aliens, Guitar Hero, X-Men Origins, PROTOTYPE, Transformers, Ice Age, Wolfenstein, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Bakugan Battle Brawlers, DJ Hero, Band Hero, Call of Duty, and Tony Hawk.
  • Take Two Interactive (NASDAQ:TTWO): The company's brand franchises include Grand Theft Auto; Sid Meier's Civilization; Max Payne; Midnight Club; Manhunt; Red Dead Revolver; Bully; BioShock; Sid Meier's Railroads!; Sid Meier's Pirates!; Carnival Games; and Top Spin, as well as sports games under the headings of licensed brands,like Major League Baseball 2K; NBA 2K; and NHL 2K.

Mobile Internet Stocks

For real-world games to be feasible, we'll need for internet to be completely mobile. Have a look at these mobile internet stocks:
  • Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)
  • Research in Motion (RIMM)
  • Palm Inc. (PALM)
  • STM Mirco (NYSE:STM)
  • Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO)
  • Ciena (NASDAQ:CIEN)
  • Tellabs (NASDAQ:TLAB)
  • Tekelec (NASDAQ:TKLC)
  • Commscope (CTV)
  • RF Micro Devices (RFMD)
  • Skyworks Solutions (NASDAQ:SWKS)

Disclosure: No positions