Gamification Expert &

Behavioral Designer

When Playing Games Can Help Save Lives

When immersed in a great game experience, learning, doing and solving problems feels completely effortless- the hours fly by.  The non-game enthusiast may see this as an idle past-time and some may even regard the compulsion to keep playing as a kind of addiction. But the people behind the Internet-Response League view this as an untapped social potential that can drive the accomplishment of enormous feats, the solving of tough problems, and the saving of lives in times of crisis and disaster.

The initiative is headed by Peter Mosur, Patrick Meier and Ahmed Meheina. Peter is a graduate student at the Metropolitan College of New York who studies emergency management. Patrick  is an expert on next generation human technology and has co-directed a Harvard program on Crisis Mapping. Ahmed is an undergraduate at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Alexandra who is studying communications and electronics. So what do these three have to do with this untapped potential?

The Internet Response League focuses on mobilizing and leveraging MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) communities. These groups have high numbers of players engaged with online game play where a healthy dose of enthusiasm is needed to solve difficult mission-driven challenges. With the right strategy, this problem-solving energy can be harnessed to produce socially conscious actions.

Currently IRL is in the early stages of developing a plug-in that would enable gamers to perform actions that would help natural disaster response teams in their relief efforts. They hope that collectively, these compassionate gamers would improve response times and as a result, help save more lives. IRL is currently speaking to indie game developers and according to, are also discussing their concept with World of Warcraft and League of Legends.

Power in Numbers – MMORPGs

The most well known example of an MMORPG is World of Warcraft which currently has over 9.6 million subscribers. Context: This is larger than the population of Sweden and collectively, they spend over 3.5 billion hours on a weekly basis playing. With such a large number of users so actively engaged, they could represent quite the mobilizing force!

Now let’s look at natural disasters. During Typhoon Haiyan and Hurricane Sandy’s devastating course, countless tweets and social media photos were posted (During Hurricane Sandy, over half a million Instagram photos were posted online along with 20 million tweets). Many of these contain valuable information that rescue workers need in order to successfully navigate the disaster area and save people who are trapped and isolated. For example a tweet might include the name of a street where there are fallen trees and power lines.

Although they need to act quickly, rescue organizations do not have access to large numbers of volunteers to sift through all the social media data in order to gather the most relevant info. Que gamers to the rescue!

With help from MMORPG gamers, this feat could potentially be accomplished in as little as an hour. The task of tagging photos and social media info can integrated with game mechanics to produce a fun, challenging, and highly rewarding experience for players. Possible examples include geo-tagging details such as names of places, latitude, longitude, altitude, bearing and distant or tagging information according to levels of damage. Perhaps most importantly, players could identify urgent information that would then be designated for high priority action- a fire or where rescue and emergency medical care is needed most.

The collective efforts of the gamers would ultimately contribute to the creation of a crisis map which would help rescue workers effectively navigate the disaster zone. It would provide strategic details about an area and include locations for clean water, regions to avoid, and the nearest medical aid stations.

Incorporating Rescue Tasks Within A Game Environment

The challenge of collating information about a real life disaster would need to be integrated within the context limits of the actual players. Here is one possibility in using gamification, proposed by the Internet Rescue League:

Data from an open source map would be used as a basic foundation for generating a map of the actual city within the game environment.  Each player would receive a quest where they would be required to complete a task. Based on the information gathered, players would be able to see the map being updated in real time.

For their participation, players could earn rewards such as: battle pets, transmog gear, gold or even character level ups.  Acquiring these types of rewards may even give them a competitive edge on leader boards.

IRL also suggests ramping up the excitement by enabling competitions among different gaming communities.  Examples might include  Xbox Live against Play Station or Network versus Steam.

Who would argue with the fact that helping disaster relief operations and victims is a great cause?  However, when viewing this type of project from a business perspective, one might wonder if this would actually benefit the companies who develop MMORPGs.

The Internet Response League believes that aiding rescues could most certainly create a win-win situation for both the business organization and the cause. Here’s why:

Despite its popularity, gaming also has its dissidents. Hardcore game enthusiasts are often joked about in the media for their nerdy propensity for self indulgence. On a more serious note, there are even stories in the news about players who died because they were so immersed in a game. This can happen from blood clots that develop from sitting for long periods, or even forgetting to eat or drink! In essence, hardcore gamers are often perceived as disengaged from real life since they are emotionally invested in fictional worlds.

Gaming may have earned a bad reputation by some of these accounts. But like anything else in life, there is the good as well as the bad.

IRL feels that rescue relief endeavors offer gaming companies the opportunity to demonstrate the positive potential of games to actually make a significant difference in the world.  In so doing, they could then win new converts, which would help to increase their sales. As we are now seeing with the success of many different kinds of socially-conscious gamification examples (see “Top 10 Social Gamification Examples that will Literally Save the World”), there’s a strong desire to holistically combine passion for games with our compassion for others.

Demand for Games that Help Save Lives

To further validate IRL’s vision, here’s another example of an intersection between the gaming world and disaster relief.

CCP Games is the company who developed EVE Online. They launched a campaign called “PLEX for Good” to help victims of Typhoon Haiyan/ Yolanda. For those of you who are not familiar with the game, PLEX stands for Pilot License Extension. It is an item that has value within the game setting as well as real world monetary value.  For every PLEX donated, CCP Games would give $15 to the Icelandic Red Cross to help with relief efforts in the Philippines.

Final Thoughts

Games help us become aware of how we act and behave when an activity is perceived as being enjoyable instead of an obligation. When we are deeply engrossed in what we are doing and having fun, it feels like we expend very little energy to achieve our goals.  As a result, we are capable of being enormously creative and productive. When this is applied towards an important cause, real world feats that would have otherwise seemed daunting become quite possible. Such is the power of games to help change the world and save lives.

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5 responses to “When Playing Games Can Help Save Lives”

  1. Oh.. something for sure happens to Yu-Kai, when year ends, he goes for saving spree, I very much remember last year, he was looking for Gamification platform that will make the world a better place or something very similar to this.. 🙂

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