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Volume 71, Issue 149, Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Opinion

Gaming gets serious, turns to learning

Michael Goetz
Opinion Columnist 

For only one dollar a day, you can help little Jimmy realize the problems in Darfur or the ethnic tensions in Palestine. At least that's what the nonprofit group Games for Change is hoping will be the outcome of its latest project.

The gaming activist group met with others in New York to discuss how video games could be used to educate the youth of the world about real world issues.Å0Ñ2With the popularity of gaming growing in mainstream entertainment, Games for Change hopes to capitalize on market penetration to enlighten the masses.

Maybe this is a sign video games are becoming less of a social pariah and more of an accepted media form. Once politics enters into an area in a cooperative manner as opposed to a regulatory manner, you can bet people will take notice.

A recent study by Peter D. Hart Research Associates shows that over 75 percent of heads of households play computer or video games with the average player at age 30. You can't get more mainstream than that.

These games are the latest in a genre called "serious games." Military war-fighting simulators, religious jihad emulators and peacemaker strategy games are all classified under this educational area of gaming.

Any game that takes a real world problem and puts it into a virtual sandbox for the general public is a step forward in public awareness. Using video games is a brilliant idea for political activism, both extreme and latent.

While the two games published by Games for Change have a heavy humanitarian feel, other games have been used in the past, and the public reacted poorly to their use. 

The highly controversial game modification for Battlefield 2 was shown putting the player in the terrorist's shoes attacking coalition forces. The issue was so large that a Senate hearing was held to find the origin of the modification and its purpose. In reality, it turned out that the video showing the modification was a fake, and the creator of the video was just having fun.

The fact that a video game clip was controversial enough to warrant this reaction is the worrisome part of the whole thing. The government's irrational reaction to a spoofed video shows the knowledge gap between the regulators and public awareness.

One can only hope, the world's governments choose to allow this new view on an entertainment outlet to flourish instead of placing "decency" restrictions if the gameplay seems too real. The world needs better education to overcome its woes. If traditional education cannot keep the attention of today's youth, maybe games can, and that is the real tragedy. If we spent more money on education and humanitarian outreach instead of investigating video games, we might be able to play games for entertainment instead of worrying about underlying political agendas.

Goetz, an opinion columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached at mpgoetz@gmail.com

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