Jane McGonigal said at TED 2010 that the world spends 3 billion hours per week playing games, but she'd like to see that number increase to 21 billion hours. You might wonder why we shouldn't be spending all that time on solving the world's many problems. Well, according to McGonigal, that's exactly what playing these games could be for.
Fun fact: In countries with a strong gamer culture, the average person will have played 10,000 hours of games by the time they reach 21. To put that into perspective, a student with perfect attendance will have gone to school for 10,080 hours between grade five and high school graduation. There's a whole parallel track of education going on alongside the formal one. Imagine if we could put that time to good use.
I have written in the past that games can be an amazing educational tool. A talk I attended spoke about learning language in the motivating world of games. I've always thought this was a powerful idea, but never really took it to the next level. If games capture so much of the population's attention, then use them to facilitate action that benefits society, but that nobody does just because they should.
Today games are often used to escape what is not satisfying in real life. Instead they could be used to immerse people in an epic adventure with the side effect of doing something "good". Let's take advantage of gamers as the amazing human resource they are. We need to bring the feeling of the epic win in games to the real world.
I think that it can be hard to marry the goal of having fun and achieving something in real life, and has often been unsuccessful (many attempts at social-good games seem to end up being pretty lame). But I do think there is potential. Whether it's by requiring players to reduce their gas consumption as in World Without Oil, or simply presenting problems that are fun to compete around in traditional games, but that simultaneously give insight into how to solve seemingly unrelated world issues, I think we are on the verge of being much more successful.
The video of McGonigal's talk, embedded below, includes much more detail about this idea.