Put that back!
Video games are often blamed for societys problems. Kids are getting fat? Theyre playing too many games and not enough cricket. Little Johnny gave someone a bloody nose at school? Hes been spending too much time on Street Fighter. Now, Im not saying video games are blameless: they can and do contribute to social problems. But they can also be used for good. In fact, some are even used to save actual human lives
The following list celebrates those games. Some are designed specifically to help society, whereas others have achieved life-saving status by happy accident. While many games--of all types--have helped to save or assist individuals in their darkest hours (and heres a wonderful, uplifting blog that celebrates just that), the following 6 titles are trying to better humanity on a bigger scale.
Play to Cure: Genes in Space
At first glance this looks like another duff space shooter for mobile. However, the story behind it is fascinating. Back in March 2013, Cancer Research UK organised a game jam, inviting developers to create an interactive experience that would help scientists crunch masses of gene microarray data, used in cancer studies. The winner of that session was Genes in Space by Guerilla Tea.
The game works like this. You fly your ship through space (using tilt controls), gathering a precious mineral called Element Alpha. The more you collect, the higher your score. However, each stage is cleverly constructed out of gene microarray data, and by flying through it, youre helping to analyse it. Once youre done, the data is uploaded and youve basically helped to combat cancer. Its enabling scientists to process cancer data in weeks, rather than months, thanks to the number of people playing. Heres a great interview with the developers, with loads more info.
Super Monkey Ball
This one is perhaps the most famous example of a video game accidentally stumbling upon life-saving status. Back in 2007 a New York doctor called Dr James Rosser Jr spearheaded a study that showed people who played video games were generally more precise when performing laparoscopic surgery. Essentially, the skills they learned playing games made them more accurate when delicately manoeuvring surgical instruments inside the human body.
Super Monkey Ball was used as a test-game for the study because it asks players to navigate tricky obstacle courses with the finest of finger movements. The study conclusions were astounding. Surgeons who played games regularly (and played Super Monkey Ball before operating) made 37% fewer mistakes, and completed tasks 27% quicker than those who didnt. Heres the full article with more details.
It seems everyone owned a Wii at one point, leading to endless photos in local newspapers of elderly people playing Wii Bowling and grinning like lunatics. Sure, its easy to mock--and much of the media written about it focused on the novelty of seeing pensioners clutching at Wiimotes, but Wii Sports is actually really, really beneficial for your health.
While dancing games pioneered active gaming, it was Wii Sports that popularised it. Suddenly people of all ages were standing up and flapping their arms about like a drunken cousin at a wedding disco. The result? Well, they were getting exercise while playing games, reducing the risk of heart disease and improving general health. Active games have evolved since then, and most have started to place too much emphasis on traditional work-outs, undermining the idea of getting fit while you have fun. Shame.
Sometimes, saving lives isnt all about discovering a cure or performing amazing, miracle operations. Sometimes, its about mental wellbeing. Thats the noble goal of UemeU, a social world-building game inspired by Minecraft. I did an interview with its creator at the end of last year, and his story is truly inspiring. Check out the full article here.
The idea behind UemeU is that multiple players can build worlds together--in real time--through a very sophisticated, but very flexible user-interface. The social implications of this are amazing, though, as the game is bringing together people from all walks of life to collaborate on a single project. This is providing all kinds of psychological and advisory support for troubled youngsters, all while they do something they love. Again, check the full feature for all the details.
Broken Sword 2: The Smoking Mirror
Wait, what? A point and click adventure that saves lives? Are you sure? Well, this one is a bit of the cheat, but youre just going to have to get over that, pumpkin. Broken Sword 2 is currently part of the Humble Bundle, a series of games sold to raise money for various charities. At the moment, were on Humble Bundle 9.
You can choose how much you pay for each bundle of games, and how your funds are divided between the charities on offer. One of the big winners out of all this is Childs Play, a foundation that gets games to sick kids spending long periods of time in hospital. Games are more than just entertainment in hospital--theyre a distraction from often painful and aggressive treatment, and can provide a lifeline to the real world. The Humble Bundle doesnt cure the diseases, but it definitely saves lives, so if youre thinking of downloading it dont be stingy.
Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training
He may have one of the smuggest, most punchable faces in gaming, but Dr. Kawashima is actually a real humanitarian. Much like Wii Fit, Nintendos series of brain training games didnt invent the mental workout, but they popularised it and brought the concept to a number of new demographics. Hey, it isnt just nerds and menopausal mums who can do puzzles to keep their mind active!
Interestingly, studies have showed that regular brain training can stave off the onset of mental illnesses like Alzheimers, and that it generally improves mental wellbeing. So, doing daft little maths puzzles isnt the same as charging into burning buildings to rescue orphans, but it is helping to combat debilitating mental conditions and in that sense its a genuine life-saver.
Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause for video games. While these are games that have a direct impact on lives, there are many, many more that help out on a personal level. Weve all got our own stories about games helping us through tough moments, no matter how small. If you feel like sharing, let us know below. If not, thats cool too.