Media & Pop Culture Book Review

Power Play: How Video Games Can Save the World

Power Play: How Video Games Can Save the WorldTitle: Power Play: How Video Games Can Save the World
Author: Asi Burak, Laura Parker
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
First Published: January 31, 2017
Pages: 272
Genres: Non-Fiction, Pop Culture, Technology
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Rating: ★★


The phenomenal growth of gaming has inspired plenty of hand-wringing since its inception--from the press, politicians, parents, and everyone else concerned with its effect on our brains, bodies, and hearts. But what if games could be good, not only for individuals but for the world? In Power Play, Asi Burak and Laura Parker explore how video games are now pioneering innovative social change around the world.

As the former executive director and now chairman of Games for Change, Asi Burak has spent the last ten years supporting and promoting the use of video games for social good, in collaboration with leading organizations like the White House, NASA, World Bank, and The United Nations. The games for change movement has introduced millions of players to meaningful experiences around everything from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the US Constitution.

Power Play looks to the future of games as a global movement. Asi Burak and Laura Parker profile the luminaries behind some of the movement's most iconic games, including former Supreme Court judge Sandra Day O’Connor and Pulitzer-Prize winning authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. They also explore the promise of virtual reality to address social and political issues with unprecedented immersion, and see what the next generation of game makers have in store for the future.

My Review:

I liked the idea for this book, loved it even, what a shame that it ended up being mediocre. I love reading academic studies, especially ones centered on video games being a lifelong gamer myself. This book had so much potential but it ended up falling flat. A mix of useless writing and “gamification” projects that had nothing to do with video games.

A good portion of the book is dedicated to some truly inspiring projects, most notably Sandra Day O’Connor’s iCivics and the cancer-fighting Re-Mission. The chapter about the potential of VR and how it is already being used for a variety of non-entertainment purposes was fascinating. Even some of the less successful games, such as Half the Sky, were still good attempts with the best of intentions that just suffered from a lack of game development experience. This is understandable, of course, as many of the trailblazers talked about in the book have never really worked in the games industry before. It was refreshing to see some projects made not for greed and entertainment but to help society in new and innovative ways.

There were some projects that are talked about like they were good things, such as pharmaceutical companies trying to get their hands in the gaming industry which I personally found unsettling. Despite some chapters about some hideously unsuccessful or misguided projects, I was actually enjoying the book. Then it all went wildly off the rails.

One of my biggest complaints was the lack of focus on the central subject, which is about video games. I found, especially in the later chapters, that the book’s definition of what a “game” was is really loose. By loose, I mean web browser-based personality quizzes. One of the chapters even talked about a one-time activity called Macon Money which had nothing to do with tech. It was an attempt at “gamification” to encourage townspeople to mingle and shop at local businesses, which was great, but it’s not a video game?

That’s what threw me off. If a book is titled and marketed about how video games can change the world, shouldn’t the book be about video games? Some of the stories were cool, sure, about folks trying to create games or using tech to facilitate change or help scientists with research, but they had next to nothing to do with the core thesis of the book.

Another issue I took with the book was the writing, which felt like amateur journalism. There were random paragraphs filled with flowery, almost romantic-sounding physical descriptions of the various creators talked about in each chapter. Considering the fact that this is a non-fiction book about games, I honestly don’t care about what most of these people looked like. It was distracting, disjointing, and boring. I noticed that two different women in different chapters were described as having “expressive eyes,” which made me think that they couldn’t think of anything better to say about them. Another paragraph made me feel like I was reading a description of a brooding male love interest in a romance novel.

If you’re going to add fluff to make the book a little less dry, at least come up with something meaningful. It was less prevalent in the early chapters but got progressively worse as I kept reading. I found myself asking, “Why is this necessary?” These odd chapters with terrible writing diminished my overall enjoyment of the book. Unfortunately, this book was a swing and a miss for me. There are some good ideas here that was simply executed poorly. I would have liked to see more focus in the chapters on video games specifically because as it stands the book is hideously mismarketed.

“But to us, there is no genre of games more compelling than ‘games for change’: those created not simply to entertain, but to promote positive social change and help solve the thorniest problems in the world.”

I’m a Filipino American blogger, historian, and lazy writer. I enjoy books, video games, anime/manga, and smoking hookah.

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