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The Armchair Revolution in Gaming

A videogame designer recently posited something interesting: Players are getting older, he said, and there's more integration between the lives they live on-screen and off. That's certainly true when you consider the glut of new games that blend play with social justice. We pointed to some already with the charity work around Haiti, but one new game is taking it even further: Armchair Revolutionary wants to inspire offline action, while you're playing.

The premise is simple: Take some of the ideas built into popular games like FarmVille and apply them to real-world tasks. Started by a former United Talent Agency employee Ariel Hauter, Armchair has several projects that players can get involved in, from selling low-cost solar kits to the world's poor to creating an ocean activism game. Rather than purchasing in-game items, the game allows for 99 cent donations in the form of virtual currency called "Kredz."

The idea of Armchair is to translate something that games do well—reward incremental actions—into something tangible. Part of the problem with giving, according to the philosophy of Armchair, is that people don't associate individual gifts or donations to a charity with global change. It seems that only someone like Warren Buffett can move the world.

But games are excellent at spurring small individual actions into large collective efforts. By rewarding each small behavior with "Kredz," everyone has a chance to chip away at a larger problem. In David Edery and Ethan Mollick's "Changing the Game," they describe how Microsoft used an internal game called Beta1 to reward members of the team for finding bugs in Windows Vista. The result: quadrupled participation in what was previously considered a boring task. Now imagine the same game but to the effort of curing a tropical disease or aiding conservation efforts.

If you haven't seen Jesse Schell's talk from DICE this year, you can watch it here. He makes an excellent case for how and why games are working their way into every aspect of human life—something we'll no doubt be seeing more of as time goes on.

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