, , ,

How can we play our way to better government?

You may or may not have seen game designer Jane McGonigal’s TED talk, which lofts the idea that video games may actually be one of our paths to saving the world. Her argument is based in part on the feeling gamers typically experience–that is, confidence that they can succeed, patience when they don’t, and determination to try, try again. And multiplayer games, such as World of Warcraft, call upon skills familiar to many a project manager–scheduling people, managing limited resources, dealing with conflicting goals.

I love these ideas, because they fly in the face of the usual “video games (or, alternately, social media/television/rock and roll} are ruining our children/society/communication skills” cliches. I’m not even sure I agree with her in all ways…and if you read some of the comments below McGonigal’s TED talk, there are clearly gamers who are slothful and depressed and not interested in saving the world at all. In other words, if you want to change the world with games, make sure that many of your players are more like Jane McGonigal, less like Cartman from South Park. I think Jane McGonigal would try to save the world on the way to getting a cup of coffee.


I think games of all kinds, from Angry Birds to…well, Angry Birds will have an increasing influence on our behavior, purchasing, business. This most recent On the Media show spent the whole hour discussing how the Gameboy is the grandpa to the Droid phone, and that many of the most useful features on all computers appeared first in video games. Games have always been with us, the show suggests…and they will be with us even more in the future.

So: what kind of games should governments be playing? What can we be designing? What’s next?

If you could design a government-based game, what would it be?

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

There is already a successful government game from the 90’s – SimCity. It’s influenced a whole generation of city planners – http://americancity.org/magazine/article/playing-with-urban-life-lobo/.

I have an idea for World-of-Government-Projects where instead of fighting orcs, elves, and other mythical creatures you fight upper management, apathetic project team members, legislators looking to cut your budget, and angry constituents. Now that is adventure! 🙂

Martha Garvey

Bill–great point. The Sims are so much with us, I forget about them, sometimes.

Would love to see what your “levels” would be in your game….good questing!

Martha Garvey

@Bill: thanks for all the content. My husband, who teaches project management, sometimes to government folks, would also be interested in this!

Andrew Nash

I’m a big fan of Jane McGonigal and her work.

The big issue I think is that government needs to get more efficient and many of the choices we face are quite complex. In my field, transportation, we often build expensive technical solutions (e.g. subways) when less expensive solutions might be more appropriate. I am developing an integrated Web 2.0 application that combines a game, best practices database (wiki) and social networking with the objective of teaching citizens about public transport priority.

Citizens play the game because it’s fun, are encouraged to learn more using the wiki, and use social networking to try to get decision-makers to do the right thing (i.e. lobby elected officials efficiently). I will be demonstrating the application at the TRB meeting in late January (Washington DC). The wiki is live now (http://www.busmeister.wikispaces.com). Lots more information is available on the project here: http://www.andynash.com/projects/busmeister/index.html

I have also written several research papers on the subject available from my website: http://www.andynash.com.


Instead of boring project management training, I’d love to see fun games or even simply World of Warcraft with follow-up discussions on what people have learned

Eric Hackathorn


What opportune timing! For those in the DC area, consider attending NOAA’s free two day summit on games and simulations in government. There is still time to register at http://noaagames.org/ and I’ve copied the announcement below.


You are invited to the *NOAA Games and Simulation Summit* at the NOAA Science Center and Auditorium in Silver Spring, Maryland on January 11-12, 2011.

Learn how cutting edge technology and interactive web-based content is being used successfully to engage, train, and educate constituents at other federal agencies. Experts from NASA, DOE, DOD, USDA, the City of New York, and higher education will provide lessons learned about evaluation, assessment and their return on investment. Join discussions about current and future NOAA efforts.

Check out the attached flier for additional information about summit events.

There is no charge for attending but you must register by January 7, 2011 at noaagames.org.