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Video Games: Altering Behavior for the Good of the Human Race

There’s little disputing the effects of video games on behavior. Online fantasy games have proven so addictive that medical staff have taken to signing up for the online multi-player adventures to treat at-risk young people as they play. Now game publishers are using that coercive potential to create games that actually benefit players, with humankind possibly looking to benefit long-term.

This year, the National Institute of Health highlighted a series of games that used their influence on human behavior to help instill positive lifestyle traits, particularly among young people. Games like the Asthma Files helped children manage their asthma while titles like Nanoswarm: Invasion from Inner Space helped teach children the benefits of exercise and healthy eating. While these games had the best of intentions, most of them were produced on a budget by smaller publishers and barely made a dent in the massive gaming industry. A wave of new games revolving around Nintendo’s motion-sensing Wii video game consoles has further popularized these types of games, which have been used to help treat everyone from stroke victims to cerebral palsy patients. But a new title produced by one of the gaming industry’s largest brands could potentially make a greater contribution to humanity than anyone expected.

Warner Bros Entertainment was recently honored with the Core Competence Business Excellence Award for a video game they released through a partnership with game developer Virtual Heroes and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The company received the honor at the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria’s Business Excellence Awards Dinner in Washington DC in June. The award recognized Warner Bros’ LAN-based PC video game, Pamoja Mtaani. Named after the Swahili expression meaning “together in the hood,” the game was launched at specific youth venues in Kenya to help educate young people about HIV and AIDS. By integrating elements like dance, music, sports, and hip-hop culture, the game has touched a number of at-risk youth on a continent where HIV and AIDS education is of the utmost importance. It will probably never be as popular (or addictive) as World of Warcraft, but it’s the most compelling example yet of video games as an innovative social force.

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