Video games as a future vehicle for promoting peaceful, inclusive societies and sustainable development
Much has been written evangelizing the power of sport. In an increasingly neoliberal society where governments are looking to private actors for public policy solutions, sport is being increasingly viewed as a tool for addressing a variety of societal issues (Schulenkorf et al., 2016; Svensson & Levine, 2017). However, the world is changing. Large swaths of the population are turning to video games and away from sport as a leisure activity (Hedlund, 2021; Project Play, 2022). While this may create some issues (e.g., decreased physical activity, more screen time), the emergence of video games as a leisure activity may also be an underused opportunity to help foster sustainable development. In the future, video games may also be relied upon as tools to help address societal issues (Loat, 2021).
The common presence of video games in society is one reason for this optimism. Video games resonate with virtually all population segments and are engrained into various demographic segments as a cultural staple (McDonald, 2023). While younger generations have grown up with esports and gaming, often viewing it as entertainment as well as as a way to keep in touch with friends (Hedlund, 2021), mobile gaming has led to video games becoming a favorite pastime with older generational groups. This phenomenon exists both in the United States and other nations. A variety of popular game titles are played worldwide, each having a language and culture of its own.
Gaming’s broad reach and appeal makes it an attractive approach for developmental programs. This is because it plays an increasingly important role in modern culture (McDonald, 2023) and has the capacity to bring diverse groups together. Video games facilitate unique opportunities for fostering connection, community, and cultural exchange. Furthermore, video games can be a highly inclusive hook for programming. One does not need to be a certain height, run at a certain speed, or have other athletic gifts that are found in traditional sports. Video games welcome everyone. This means more people can participate in video games and esports competitions, thus becoming a more equitable and accessible medium for engagement. It also means more opportunities for members from different groups (e.g., Global North/South divide, accessibility, age, race, gender identity, national origin, religion, etc.) to participate or compete against each other on equal footing.
The above proposition is currently being pilot tested through several video game-based youth development programs in Philadelphia. These video game programs are paired with a theoretical approach intended to remove barriers to access, opportunity, and resources as part of unlocking new pathways to improve well-being. (Nussbaum, 2011; Svensson & Levine, 2017). Early results suggest video games could possibly serve as a developmental framework to bring social solutions to adolescent participants, meeting them in this leisure space. This would be in a manner similar to sport-based programs.
Additional replication will further examine video games’ potential as a future approach in the development space. The development community, to better meet the needs of those they seek to serve, must evolve with the changing leisure and consumption habits of the world. Video games possess similar characteristics that make sport-based programs an attractive medium for development. Given its universality, it is a worthwhile endeavor to explore whether video games could be used to promote a variety of worthy positive outcomes. It certainly has the potential to be used as a tool for fostering peaceful and inclusive societies, and sustainable development.
About the author
Jeffrey Levine oversees Drexel University’s Esport Business Program. He also leads several video game-based youth development programs in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
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