In the Casual Gamer’s Bill of Rights I put forward last week, it was #6 — “The right to games that help me understand the world and my place in it” — that proved most controversial among my circle of friends and developers, so I wanted to spend a little time discussing it and getting to the core of the argument.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once remarked that, “A lot of companies get grouped as social networking. Lots are dating sites, or media sites or sites for community. But our mission is helping people understand the world around them.” Some might think that’s just green, marketing fluff. Maybe it is. But there’s also something very appealing about that idea in terms of games.
The community benefits of online games are recognized by medical professionals: No matter where gamers live, they love the ability to meet other people from around the world. It’s that option, that unique ability for real-time social interaction, that enhances the game experience, making it more than just a game.
Of course, you might be hard-pressed to argue that any game is going to help anyone understand their place in the world — and that’s fine. Is it silly to think of Peggle as the new Da Vinci Code? Maybe. However, I think the opportunity exists in the play space.
Sometimes, it’s conversation via in-game chat. That’s where you meet people, hear their viewpoints, learn something about their part of the world. We see that all the time in massively multiplayer game shows such as Bingo Zone or group chat in single-player games on Pogo.
Sometimes, the game itself is overt about its socially conscious intent. For example, Peace Maker and Future Flow let you know, up front, that these games are about our world and what’s happening to it.
HopeLab’s Remission is credited with helping many cancer patients better understand the disease, and at least one with actually defeating leukemia. Games are also useful in pain management and can potentially help people with acute depression and Attention Deficit Disorder.
At their most basic, productivity games such as Diner Dash can help people feel like they’re exerting some control over their lives where they otherwise may not have any.
Real life might be complex and tedious at times, with rules being broken left and right. Games provide structure — rules that can’t be broken — and tasks that can be completed. There’s something very satisfying about that, something that perhaps cannot always be achieved in reality. And maybe that therapeutic nature helps people deal with their real lives just a little bit better.
Someone once remarked that, “The game of life is like the game of boomerangs — deeds and words return to us sooner or later with astounding accuracy.” Good thing casual games can also help with alertness, contentment and hand-eye coordination. (Thanks, Peggle!)
Christopher Cummings, author of The Left Click, is senior product manager for Gamesville.com, where thousands of people compete daily in free, massively multiplayer games to win real cash prizes. You can join the Gamesville group on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.
This editorial originally appeared at