N Square Saves the World in Real Life

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From: Venture Beat

Please help. We want you to use your experience saving virtual worlds to help save the real one.

At this year’s Games for Change Festival (April 21 to April 23 and April 25), where great minds apply game thinking to some of the world’s most challenging problems, the nuclear security collaborative N Square will announce a new challenge to spark the creativity of game creators worldwide. The call to arms: design a digital game that tackles nuclear security. Help us raise awareness about the threat of nuclear weapons and inspire your generation to take on this wicked problem.

The Cold War is over, and diplomatic progress has been made, but the likelihood of nuclear calamity may be greater now than it has ever been. Existing weapon stockpiles are decaying and new threats are being created as a result of the modernization of global arsenals. Terrorist groups already have the engineering know-how to make a bomb and are actively seeking out the necessary materials. If successful, they will control a nuclear weapon.

Many people — especially those who weren’t alive during the duck-and-cover Cold War era — are shocked to learn that some 16,300 nuclear weapons still exist today, with roughly 1,800 on so-called hair-trigger alert, literally ready to launch in minutes. Meanwhile, those who hold the launch codes face the possibility of making critical decisions under extreme stress, likely in the absence of transparent and reliable information. Though few of us feel knowledgeable enough to advocate for comprehensive and lasting solutions to secure nuclear materials, traditional experts need our help and ingenuity.

It is time for a new strategy. Experts and governments have their roles, but they do not have a monopoly on ideas. We need to add some new plays to the playbook and to bring in the world’s most creative, diverse and focused minds. Gamers and game makers, this means you.

You’ve tackled complicated issues before. Consider how in 2011, gamers solved an AIDS-related research problem that had eluded scientists for 15 years. Using the online game Foldit to model the enzyme structure of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus, four people with no scientific background found a solution in just 10 days.

As game designer and world-renowned public speaker Jane McGonigal has pointed out, gaming environments capture a sense of altruism and optimism. Game players are innovative and relentless problem solvers. They grind away for as long as it takes and are always ready to try again after failure.

N Square’s mission is to create the conditions for innovation in the field of nuclear security. That includes inspiring the next generation of creative thinkers to secure an epic win: a future free from the threat of nuclear catastrophe. You don’t need a degree in nuclear physics or a job in government to make a difference on this issue, but you do need to understand the nature of the threat and the decisions about nuclear weapons that are being made in your name.

After all, human beings invented this danger. By enlisting a wide-ranging corps of innovative problem-solvers, we can invent our way out of it as well.

Games for Change and N Square hope this fresh challenge will inspire a new generation of creative thinkers to take aim at a staggering threat. We believe in you. You have the ingenuity and confidence to change the real world. Game on.

Asi Burak is the president of Games for Change, a nonprofit working to catalyze social impact through digital games. Erika Gregory is the director of N Square, a nuclear non-proliferation and security collaborative that includes the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ploughshares Fund and the Skoll Global Threats Fund.