The Promise of Games in the Public Interest

seggermanSuzanne Seggerman

President, Co-Founder, Games for Change






Games can be used for A LOT of purposes – well beyond entertainment. And as they are a young medium, they are not often envisioned beyond their current contexts; we are all still just getting used to them. Some people though have caught on early, and are using games in almost everything they do. Here’s a list I excerpted from an email I received earlier this year outlining just some of the ways this one contractor/developer is using games: (Do read through it – it will surprise you.)

Core Values, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Communication, Ethics, Drug Abuse Prevention, Alcohol Abuse Prevention, Personnel Readiness,Teamwork, Coaching and Counseling,  Time Delegation, Organizational Skills, Contingency Contracting,  Personal Advancement, Suicide Prevention,  PTSD, Psychological Health,Adaptability, Sexual Harassment, Ethical Leadership, Family Responsibility, Cross Cultural Communications, Reasoning Under Fire, Deployment Preparation, Equipment Readiness and Maintenance, Command and Control, Support Operations,  Command Supply Discipline, Development of Junior Officers, Value and Limitations of Doctrine, Force Protection, Explosive Ordnance Disposal,  Wounded Warrior Transition, Anti-terrorism, Surveillance Detection,


If you read through the end of the list, you will probably be able to guess who this developer is making games for – the military. So why is the military using games for so much of what they do? Because they can. Because they have the foresight – and the means – to use this incredible technology to address all sorts of challenges they face. 

So why not us? Why don’t we who work in the public interest sector – the educators, NGOs, philanthropists – use games this extensively? Some of the challenges we face are just as important as those of the military – Educating our children. Raising awareness about public health concerns. Addressing poverty – These all stack up quite robustly alongside protecting our country. Yet, we are WAY behind. The public interest sector is often the last to adopt new technologies. We need to understand and use these new tools as much as they do.

So what do we do about it?

First we need a more informed public discourse about the medium. Games are not the enemy; they are not the corrupting forces of evil they are painted in most mainstream (and congressional) portraits of them. Parents, the media and our representatives in Washington need to understand games in a much broader context. Games can and should be used for a wide variety of public interest causes.

We need public funds as well. We need a dedicated resource pool for expanding the uses of digital media to address and engage the public in the core issues facing our country: poverty, educational disparities, healthcare issues, lots more. Games for Change is calling on a number of thought leaders, including the Cooney Center, to join with us to think through what we need to harness the incredible power of games and digital media to address some of the core issues our country faces. If the military gets it, why shouldn’t we?

This post originally appeared on the Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age blog.

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