SLENZ Update, No 145, October 23, 2009

Online-gaming: a mind-altering strategy from Big Red Sheds?

Warehouse CIO  launches  “virtual games”

strategy to improve  Kiwi  life outcomes

There is  now a considerable and growing body of evidence that  on-line gaming   and the use of virtual worlds can  be mind altering, leading  to development of  different life skills, either good or bad, as typified by the Proteus Effect, first described by Dr Nick Yee, in  his PhD dissertation, and based on research into  World of Warcraft player psychologies.

Now the baton has been taken up in New Zealand by the Warehouse CIO Owen McCall (pictured left) who is the promoter of the the Life Game Project, which aims to use immersive games technology to “develop life skills and positive lifestyle choices” for New Zealanders aged five to 19.

McCall OwenCIO WarehouseHe has assembled a small group of companies and individuals based on their specific expertise, who are collaborating in getting and creating  the components needed to get educational life games out to children and youths in ‘under-served’ communities.

The life games will be designed to  teach youngsters how to cope with various issues they may have to face growing up in their community, including  physical abuse, exposure to alcoholism, drugs, gang pressure and/or some other problem where education may make the difference between a youth sinking or swimming in life.

Others involved in initial discussions of the  Life Game Project last month included: Aden Forrest, of Salesforce, John Blackham, of XSOL, David Gandar, of Delta Software and Parikshit Basrur, of First Mobile, Nicole Fougère,  of Litmos and a representative of the University of Auckland.

“Big, hairy, audacious goals”

Divina Paredes, writing in CIO New Zealand,  earlier this month, said the group had “big, hairy, audacious goals”  for completion by December, 2012. They included: Measurably impacting  the lives of 2000 Kiwis, their families and friends through the programme; establishing  50 effective games delivery operations; and developing two immersive games for the local communities and for sale globally.

In the short term, Paredes said, the group planned to have at least one such community  centre with six to 10 PCs set up before Christmas this year, in an under-served community.

McCall, who is also a coach for StepUp, a programme  that assists underprivileged teens, says the group chose to harness games technology on the premise that the more immersive and involving the technology, the better the learning experience and learning outcome would be.

“It really springs from a belief that most people will make good choices in their lives if they have the skills and the capabilities,” McCall told Paredes, as many online games were driven by participants’ decisions and their ability to complete specific quests or tasks. “You can teach them or allow them to learn and experience through the games what good choices and what skills and capabilities they require to be successful.”

McCall says his favourite example of helping society’s victims turn their lives around is the Delancey Street Foundation in the US, which has  helped substance abusers, ex-convicts and homeless persons through peer support and mentoring.

“Pretty amazing results…”

“Anything you can do to support that learning at anytime in someone’s life, you get some pretty amazing results,” he told Paredes

Fougère,  general manager of online learning company Litmos, described the initative as “ambitious” but added that the real issue  could be  internet coverage in the areas to be served,  an issue  for most Kiwis accessing virtual worlds anywhere outside of the main commercial centres.   She told  Paredes, however, that  the group also concluded during the initial meeting that putting the PCs in a community house would be preferable, as it would hopefully encourage social interaction and culture around the activities, and better security.Howard,Ian

It is not known whether the ubiquitous Sony Playstation – popular even in  underprivileged areas –  and its Home virtual world and/or other games consoles  were discussed as possible vehicles for the LPG games.

Ian Howard (pictured right) a consultant, facilitator and coach,  who has been appointed team lead for the LGP Project, said the LGP Group was  keen to provide LGP Supporters with satisfying bite-sized opportunities to participate with the LGP.

“As we move forward with various pilots and then into production, there will also be many opportunities for LGP Supporters to join a LGP Project Delivery Team as an Owner, a PM or ‘What can I do to help’ member,” he said. “These are the essential ‘customer facing’ people at the sharp end who will collaborate with the LGP Support Teams to facilitate, drive and support the delivery of the right LGP Games over the appropriate Infrastructure to specific Under-served Communities.”

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