Video games have evolved from basement entertainment to mobile boredom-battlers, from lone pursuits to massive multiplayer online extravaganzas. Not only have they overcome solitude and mobility issues, they have overcome what it means to play in a way few people saw coming.

The oldest, loudest complaint in the media at large about video games has historically been their supposed ability to cause violence in their users. Similar to the fear mongering around Dungeons and Dragons leading to cult worship and ritual murder, this has proved to be an overreaction to a new medium. However, in researching this much asked question about the link between videogames and violence, it has become clear that video games and the experiences they provide do change people. Game designers across the world grabbed this fact and ran with it, launching a new genre of “games for good” as an effort to turn game mechanics and the fun they generate into real-world change.

In January of 2019, FortisBC, BC1Call and BC Common Ground Alliance began work with a student team from the Centre for Digital Media. Their goal? Change the world a little by getting new and young contractors to use the free service offered by BC1Call.

The student team (the Goal Diggers) of Peter Zhengyang Pan, Sam Stumborg, Rubing Bai, Dafne Delgado, and Mikayla Preete decided to create Contractor City, a mobile game aimed at behavioral change. FortisBC’s Ian Turnbull, Damage Prevention & Emergency Services Manager, and I helped the team narrow down the target audience and define the problem. When it became clear the same people striking pipes were both young and mobile users, the team proposed a game.

Rather than a traditional “win/lose” video game, Contractor City is an idle game that plays itself while you’re away. Like a stock portfolio that constantly accrues interest, idle games push the envelope of what it means to be a video game because so little player interaction is needed. Pocket-sized and easy to play, Contractor City aims to teach the player how important it is to know what’s below by rewarding safe ground disturbance practices and punishing dangerous deeds.

As a way of rewarding contractors, there is an option that allows players to turn their real-life BC1Call reference numbers (a number you receive when you call their service) into in-game currency. In sum: real-life safety is rewarded with in-game success. All-in-all, the game aims to make lasting behavioral change by encouraging repeat use, safe practices, and BC1Call membership. The prototype of the game was presented at the 7th Annual Canadian Common Ground Alliance Damage Prevention Symposium, held in Niagara Falls last October.

Contractor City is joining a blossoming “games for good” industry focused on behavioral changes and teaching new skills. The same semester FortisBC, BC1Call and BC Common Ground Alliance and the Goal Digger team created Contractor City, other student and client teams created games for teaching neuroanatomy and rewarding exercise. Ayogo, a company devoted to making games for healthcare, is also located on the same campus.

None of these games are the much-derided video games of basements or arcades that people blamed for violence, or the VR headsets and army training simulations built for preparing players for war. These are games for good, aimed at changing behaviors to help both their players and society at large.

Saving the world? The app for that is already on the way.

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