Video games are more than entertainment

We at Chaos Theory have always been advocates for the positive impact of gaming. Our focus when developing transformational games at Chaos Theory is built on human-centric game design, looking to tap into human psychology to change behaviour and have a real-world impact. 

Despite advocacy, there is still a consensus that video games are solely a source of entertainment and nothing more. Since it is a niche industry, it can sometimes take time to research the potential impact of serious game projects. This blog can be a resource for anyone looking to understand how gaming can positively impact people and organisations. 

KangaZoo is an example of a game project that focused on positively impacting Australian Native Flora and Fauna

Popular media outlets like to focus on the negative impact of games, how 1-10% of the youth are adversely affected or addicted to them. Still, there are thousands of teams all around the world using games to improve people’s lives. A study conducted with three different age groups, students, adolescents and adults in and out of university, proved that games with prosocial elements promoted healthy relationships, helping behaviours such as sharing and comforting peers, and enhancements to empathy. This is also reflected in other studies, where at least 75% of gamers agree that video games help improve mental stimulation through connected online play.

Aside from behavioural and social changes, games are a diverse tool that can be applied to most use cases to solve many problems - from education to healthcare, to social change, and everything in between!

How can we change the player's views?

Usually, when people think of gaming, they think of console or PC games like Fortnite, Call of Duty, Pokemon, GTA, etc. These big-name games are entertainment focused and usually the centre of attention when it comes to opposing views on gaming. 

However, the flip side to this coin would be games like Minecraft, which have obvious benefits for players and have been adapted to other real-world uses, such as the immersive learning platform Minecraft: Education. This adapted game is now widely used in over 7,000 classrooms in 40 countries.

One of the reasons gaming works well in the education industry is the ability to create simulated learning scenarios that are measurable and reproducible. These benefits can also be applied to the workplace, health, and social change. As research has shown, you learn and retain information better by doing. What’s better than a safe, simulated learning environment before needing to put those skills into practice?

Below we will dispel some common myths about games, outline how games are used to reach real-world objectives, and explain where they are used in various organisational settings. We’ll also look at some sources where you can find research on the efficacy of games. Finally, we’ll link you to an easy-to-follow guide for starting a ‘transformational games’ project.

Let's dispel common myths about gaming and video games

While there are a lot of opinions on the negative effects of gaming, there are some that seem to have common overlap across most media houses. Let’s discuss the reality of games and the people who play them:

Video games are played by people of all ages and demographics

  • Games are played by everyone. There are over 3.2 billion gamers worldwide, and the average age is around 35. In Australia, 46% of players are female, while 56% are male. In the US, this statistic is very similar, plus it was also surveyed that 7% of all players in the US are over the age of 65. In fact, between the 50-70-year-old bracket and the under-18-year-old bracket, the percentage of players is almost the same!
  • Different styles of the game appeal to different people. For example, the statistics for mobile game players are split evenly between male and female players. It is confirmed that mobile puzzle games, specifically brain exercise games, are downloaded and played majorly by women, over 75%.
An excerpt from the 2022 IGEA Digital Australia Report

Games and gaming are not addictive

Video games promote social bonding and connection

  • Many people assume the average gamer is a teenager alone in their room surrounded by a pile of empty soda cans, but this is entirely a stereotype, as we have mentioned above. 
  • The 2022 IGEA report shows that 75% of children and adults play games in social settings, whether in person or over the internet. A similar statistic from the same report confirmed that over 36% of Australians said they had made new friends and connections through games.
  • One such story comes from our very own Chaos Theory Office, where we host regular game nights to increase social bonding and cooperation between everyone at the company!

Games are more than just tools for entertainment

  • We know for a fact that video games can and have been used for a lot more than just entertainment. Aside from educational purposes (Minecraft: Education), video games are also used for simulation training in various industries (IBM), physical and mental rehabilitation in healthcare facilities (Mind Maze) and as social impact projects (CHANGE).

But, there’s plenty more where that came from!

As mentioned in the examples above, games have the ability and power for real-world impact. Educational games are a huge industry, as many more schools and organisations are advancing their syllabus systems through gamification. 

Gaming inherently can capture information and retain attention like no other form of media. It lets us experience digital worlds from a first-person perspective (e.g. “While playing, I overcame the challenge to reach the end of the level”), allowing for a more active role in acquiring and formulating ideas. According to the IGEA report, over 75% of adults agree that gamification of education helps increase general and specialised knowledge. 

This is also because of the combination of audio and visual storytelling. The Learning Pyramid model suggests that some study methods are more effective than others, and those varying study methods will lead to deeper learning and longer-term retention.

  • The model posits that a combination of audio-visual, demonstration and practice has a higher level of retention and learning. This is also what makes games an excellent tool for communication.
  • Thus, gaming has the potential for a higher level of auditory, visual and kinesthetic communication.

Similarly, businesses can also greatly benefit from the advantages of gaming’s immersive nature. A study by Brigham Young University showed that teams that played video games together for 45 minutes performed 20% better than those that took part in generic team-building exercises.

This has also been proven in the workforce today. About 60% of workers feel more motivated and resourceful if their training is gamified. Because of the advanced effectiveness, many companies are turning to gamify their productivity and training. For example, Freshworks started FreshDesk Arcade to boost customer service capabilities through quests, points and badges. The fun-based competition through the app improved efficiency, effectiveness and much higher levels of engagement throughout the team. This achieved outstanding reviews from over 2,500 of their clients and an end-of-year increase in revenue of 1000%

Aside from workplaces, games are used to make tremendous strides in healthcare and therapy. We already mentioned Mind Maze, which uses digital technology and gamification to immerse patients to promote brain functions. Mind Maze labs technology is now being used in over 75 clinics worldwide, benefitting over 10,000 patients.

You can also check out our blog on the importance and value of citizen science for more examples of how games and healthcare can harmonise.

But what about some peer-reviewed research?

Scientific peer-reviewed journals are an excellent resource for those who want to try to read through them. These research papers provide valuable insight and good sample groups to build on information from. However, looking for and finding valuable articles through the sea of them that exist can seem daunting! 

For example, a randomised trial conducted by researchers at the European Journal of Anaesthesiology found that children in preoperative who were given video games to play as a distraction had far less anxiety than children who were given videos to watch, which is usually the standard.  

Similarly, several studies have been conducted to outline the effects of Active Video Games (AVGs) in children with obesity. They found that AVGs were otherwise suitable for general exercise and motion amongst children with an active lifestyle. In contrast, for children with obesity, they served as a good base point for increasing total energy spent and the potential for regulating and reducing BMI and Body Weight. 

In 2019 the WHO called gaming addiction a mental disorder, but in 2020 after the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, they supported the use of gaming to stay socially active while isolating. Bringing about the term “Play Apart Together”. This also shows how gaming can be helpful in adults and adolescents. An article by the Simulation and Gaming Association outlines the various forms and functions of just how well gaming can be used as a social link and actual research tool that contribute to tangible results. 

Here are some tips that could help you wade through the wilderness of research:

  1. Start with a basic outline or list of the kind of research you’re after; this could be qualitative studies (ones that will show you the positives or negatives of a subject overall) or quantitative studies (this where numbers and percentages are the heroes).
  2. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can put down a list of words that are attached to the research, for example, effects of games in education, video games for the environment, game-based learning in agriculture, etc.
  3. If you’re looking for peer-reviewed journals as a base, these are an excellent place to start for academic journals that are updated quarterly.
  4. Some of the good places you can start searching for these keywords and phrases are -
    1. Google Scholar: While an excellent all-round resource, it cannot tell you whether an article or journal will be free to download or view
    2. Library Genesis: Similar to Google Scholar, most resources have free access.
    3. JSTOR: A perfect place to go when looking for source material and primary resources

There’s plenty of information out there for you to consume after reading this!

If you are looking for an excellent all-around resource for how a transformational game can be made, you can check out my free step-by-step guide: Create Games that Solves Problems. 

While the process may be challenging, games' impact is unmatched. Video games can deliver an intimate experience by speaking to the player directly in an interactive format and personalising the content for their preferences or skill level. In addition, they can quickly scale to reach billions of people through instant digital distribution services such as the App Store, Steam, or via a web browser.

Transformational games can be approached in two very different ways - designing and developing a custom game for a specific purpose or adapting an existing game to meet your objectives. It is essential to define your game's objectives and key performance indicators early in the process to help decide what method best to reach your goals.

For example, educational games can sometimes have an objective such as “teach students how gravity works”. This isn’t a great objective because there is so much room for interpretation by different team members. A better goal would be “Teach year ten students the fundamentals of Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation and improve those students' scores on the relevant physics exams by an average of 10%”. 

Want to learn more about educational games in particular? Read our blog on education in a digital era!

Games can sometimes get a bad rap, but many organisations are working hard to prove the validity of games and change public perception. We are one such organisation, trying to make a mark by educating everyone about the genuine advantages of games. We have dispelled some common misconceptions about the medium of games, explored where games are being used to reach real-world objectives, and reviewed some research that validated the efficacy of games in various contexts. 

There is a lot that goes into creating a transformational game. I hope this blog and its resources will help clarify how games can be used to solve real-world problems and inspire you to start your transformational games project!