The social power of gaming

- Melanie Tromp Hoover

The nearly 3 billion hours per week spent playing video games across the world could be put to much better use—at least that’s the notion that was up for debate and discussion at IdeaFest’s Games Without Frontiers: The Social Power of Video Games symposium on March 9.

This day-long event explored the inherent value and possible productivity of gaming from a number of angles—there were presentations of success stories, panel discussions on both the potential for and future of socially beneficial gaming and a “game jam” for students to brainstorm game concepts that have the potential to improve journalism. Add to that a kid zone, rooms of game demonstrations from local developers and a seven-person band of mostly UVic students that exclusively perform musical scores from video games, and you’ve got a sense of how multi-faceted and interdisciplinary gaming culture really is.

“We were blown away by the positive response to Games Without Frontiers,” says event co-organizer David Leach, director of UVic’s Technology and Society Program and a faculty member in the Department of Writing. “Students immediately embraced the idea of the social power of video games because it’s a medium they’ve grown up with. But so did faculty members, UVic admin, local media and visitors of all ages from off-campus, who were all intrigued by the intersection of research, social impact and virtual play.”

“It was also a wonderful opportunity to connect with the vibrant but often overlooked game-development industry—a real creative hub in Victoria.”

On top of attracting nearly 400 attendees into this diverse conversation, Games Without Frontiers threw a spotlight on several UVic-based research projects that use gamification to either gather data or mobilize findings, including a Hul’qumi’num-sponsored land treaty game from Brian Thom and Yvonne Coady that educates players about British Columbia’s treaty negotiation process (, the Digital Fishers project from the Centre for Global Studies that uses achievement-focused game techniques to gather citizen scientist-contributed video annotations (, and a suite of popular facial recognition games and exercises born out of Jim Tanaka’s work in the Centre for Autism Research Technology and Education (

As for where the UVic leg of this topical conversation is headed, Leach and his organizing committee have started thinking about the kinds of issues a second gaming-focused symposium might explore. “We’d definitely like to do it again next year, perhaps with an emphasis on the ‘gamification’ of education as a whole and more in-depth discussions of the collaborative creative process that goes into designing innovative game projects."


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Keywords: interdisciplinary, research, IdeaFest

People: David Leech

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