Meaningful Play

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From a young age my mom instilled in me a certain obligation for protecting all things natural. Of course these “things” varied, from her urging me to boycott hair dye to preserve my natural dark locks, to the more extreme and definitely more important effort of preserving the Earth and its majestic natural spaces. Her most recent project involves protecting the clean water supply that my home state, Michigan, is known world-wide for. She is doing this by creating a petition to ban hydraulic fracking in the state of Michigan.

Slightly switching gears, my older brother Greg, a fellow Spartan in his final semester of graduate school, works for Michigan State University at the Games for Entertainment and Learning lab. The basic premise of the lab is to design meaningful games, both digital and non-digital, that educate players about a topic.

Let me connect the dots. Based on my mother’s commitment to protecting clean water, and my brother’s passion for meaningful video games, I felt eerily connected to the “Get H20 Challenge” solution. It is the perfect fusion of my family’s devotions.

The Get H20 Challenge is an online video game that educates players on the reality of living in a slum with limited resources, emphasizing the necessity for clean water. To some, a video game might seem like a childish approach to promoting positive social change. The word “game” itself implies that something is not serious. However, it is an ideal platform for switching individuals mindsets from passive to proactive. The game is interactive, forcing individuals to understand the consequences of ignoring problems within their communities. Players don the title of “Changemaker,” and to advance in the game they must balance building houses, managing water and limiting pollution in a community of slum dwellers. Through trial and error, the player learns the necessity for limiting pollution and preserving fresh water supplies

One seventh of humanity lives without clean water. This statistic is not new to me, but shocks me each time I read it. The clean water situation throughout the world is easy to neglect and common to take for granted when you’re on the side of people who have easy access to it. The Get H20 Challenge underscores the plight of individuals who live in areas with a scarcity of resources, but also ignites a mindset in players to think proactively and find solutions.  This game humbles you through education, but then inspires you to act through a design that feeds off gamers’ drive to advance earn coins, advance levels and ultimately win. The beauty of it is that “winning” carries true merit when you play this game. When you win, it signals that you’ve achieved a deeper understanding of how to responsibly ration resources in order to create a healthy, sustainable community.

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