"I believe that if we want to survive the next century on this planet, we need...21 billion hours of gameplay every week. ... No, I'm serious." So says Jane McGonigal in a recent TED Talk. McGonigal is a game designer who studies gaming, cooperation, and how games can actually make a difference in the real world. Her thesis is basically that kids are already spending zillions of hours (specifically, 10,000 hours on average by age 21) playing games -- so why not use that game time to do something constructive? Her research indicates that games can influence real world behavior. McGonigal has actually built several such collaborative games, most notably World Without Oil, a game about an oil shortage, which apparently influenced its players to reduce real world oil usage for a period of years after the game ended. It's a hard idea to swallow (can playing games really save the world? Can world-saving games be as fun as World of Warcraft?), but McGonigal makes a fairly convincing case. If nothing else, this talk should spark a healthy debate -- there are sub-issues here like how much time we spend playing games, how games affect our real world behavior, and so on.
Interesting stuff discussed here: statistics on how much game time people (especially kids) are really getting, the invention of games, sheep-knuckle dice, how a famine led to the invention of dice games (according to Herodotus), saving an ancient culture by playing games, World Without Oil and how it actually changed players' behavior in the real world.