One of the many buzzy topics at the world’s largest gathering of video-gaming professionals, the Game Developers Conference, which kicks off this month in San Francisco, is sure to be Jane McGonigal’s new website, Gameful.org. McGonigal is a notorious Bay Area brainiac who has won numerous gaming awards and appeared on at least five lists of top innovators to keep an eye on. Her baby is the serious-gaming movement (though she prefers to call it the gameful movement), which attempts to harness gamers’ enthusiasm and obsession with winning to solve real-world problems.
Last year, McGonigal had gamers working with the World Bank on issues like hunger and sustainable energy, and with Gameful, she hopes to turn gameful into a household word. The site is designed to be an online incubator where experi-enced developers can talk shop and first-timers can get advice on how to make better games. Many new members are bleary-eyed basement warriors who grew up playing StarCraft, Final Fantasy, and, of course, Zelda, and are enamored of the idea that their next quest could actually make a difference in the world upstairs.
Ultimately, the hope is that Gameful will help create such a high demand for serious gaming that big manufacturers will have to take note. “Games kind of suck right now, because the ones that get attention are the ones with marketing budgets,” says San Francisco resident Chelsea Howe, a regular on Gameful who beat Mario Bros 3 as a mere kindergartner, and has since worked on FarmVille and a few iPhone apps. Jane McGonigal is “rock awesome,” Howe says, adding that she has “absolute faith” that the celebrity game designer can get gameful gaming some real cred. Just imagine: Instead of asking for Assassin’s Creed, someday your kids might be begging you for the latest version of Kill Hunger!