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Consortium to Examine Digital Games Social, Health Benefits

Children playing games on iPhones.A consortium of academic researchers and digital game developers in the U.K. are studying ways to harness the creative energy in digital games for social and health goals. The £1.2 million ($US 1.86 million) project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council, both science funding agencies in the U.K.

The project is expected to study sustainable business models for digital games, particularly those with scientific and social goals. The findings should help guide businesses in developing new digital games with the potential to improve society. The initiative also aims to build simulation models to uncover potential outcomes of policies that encourage development of games with scientific or social benefits.

The New Economic Models and Opportunities for digital Games (NEMOG) initiative, as the project is called, is led by University of York computer science professor Peter Cowling, in the university’s Centre for Complex Systems Analysis. The other academic partners are Cass Business School at City University London and Durham University Business School. The project is expected to support the work by three postdoctoral researchers.

Cowling says the actions of game participants yield a huge amount of data for the study. “This is a truly immense source of information about player behaviors and preferences,” says Cowling. “We will develop new algorithms to ‘mine’ that data,” Cowling adds, “to better understand game players as an avenue for making better games, societal impact, and scientific research.”

NEMOG has an advisory council of digital game developers and industry groups supporting the project. Some 13 digital game companies are among the partners in the project, including five developers currently producing games with scientific and social goals: Complex City Apps, LimbsAlive, MiniMonos, Playgen, and ZumFun.

“The numbers of games sold and the numbers of game hours played,” notes Cowling, “mean that we only need to persuade a small fraction of the games industry to consider the potential for social and scientific benefit to achieve a massive benefit for society.”

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Photo: tinkerbrad/Flickr

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