I had two favorite PC games growing up (and yes, I am a PC, sorry Steve Jobs and Apple): SimCity and RollerCoaster Tycoon. My heroes had names like Sid Meier, Will Wright, and Chris Sawyer—they were the ultimate creators, developing worlds that were so customizable that they engulfed millions of players, young and old, worldwide for endless hours. Gamers have created true-to-life replicas of famous cities or popular theme parks, fantastical worlds where innovative transit systems and gravity-defying rides dot the landscape, and innovative plans and designs that introduce new concepts into the real world of planning or theme park design.
It is this latter possibility that is leading many people to consider games more seriously, as potential tools for the professional world to explore possibilities, to test ideas, and to innovate outside the bounds of life as we know it. About a month ago, Foldit players solved a decade-long mystery in protein structure and introduced an innovation that could have a major impact in the research to find a cure for AIDS. This is no small achievement—while the game is designed simply to allow creativity in protein folding, the creative process and the game’s ease of testing results allows for greater achievement. And in other sectors of the news, some have suggested Herman Cain’s misguided 999 Plan might have originated with the flat-tax default in Sim City 4. Although clearly in the case the game falls short of the complexity of real-world tax codes—but is a game once-again inspiring real world policy proposals? Continue reading