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My sense is that, in 2012, IT will once again be asked to do more with less. Given the budgetary constraints, most IT organizations would love to make a big impact without spending a lot of money. Sound too good to be true? Not necessarily.

Universities, nongovernmental organizations and charities must frequently address difficult problems with limited resources. For answers, many have turned to a new genre of video games known as “games that change the future” or “games with a purpose.” Players immerse themselves in complex issues — energy shortages, revolutions, famines and pandemics, to name a few — and work out the best ways to address them. But such games also have a place in corporations.

According to Asi Burak, co-president of the nonprofit Games for Change , many of the most successful games do one or more of the following:

Crowdsource creative solutions. In 2010, a World Bank-sponsored game called Evoke challenged players to develop solutions to intractable problems such as water shortages, poverty and disaster relief. The best ideas were discussed at the Evoke Summit . Top players received public recognition, mentoring by social innovators and seed funding for their ideas.
A similar game might address “big data” issues, challenging players to discover innovative approaches to managing, searching, processing and visualizing the data. Players could also suggest new uses for the data.

Expand game designers’ boundaries.FoldIt players solve 3D puzzles. Scientists analyze gamers’ approaches to pattern matching to improve computer-generated algorithms for predicting how protein “folds” into 3D structures.
A similar game could solicit ideas for implementing green IT and allow players to review proposed designs for possible improvements.

Raise players’ awareness. Game designers attempt to change players’ perspectives on entrenched issues by placing gamers in important roles. PeaceMaker players assume the role of Israel’s prime minister or Palestine’s president. Players make security, construction and political decisions, and address unexpected consequences. Each leader must maintain the approval of the populace, the U.N., the Arab world and the U.S.
In the Project Management Game , players develop project plans, put together staffs and set tasks, schedules and budgets. The game then simulates project execution. Players’ virtual staffs must complete projects without running out of time, money or other resources, while dealing with “chance events” that alter the project’s viability.
Assuage a current situation. Players of Zynga games (FarmVille, Mafia Wars, etc.) have donated over $10 million to disaster relief by selling limited-edition virtual goods. FreeRice is a multiple-choice quiz covering subjects such as basic math, literature and chemical symbols. For every correct answer, 10 grains of rice are donated to the U.N.’s World Food Programme.

Organizations trying to change corporate perceptions of IT could establish a similar game demonstrating knowledge of IT products, services and processes. Departments or individuals could compete for points, virtual prizes or that well-established IT reward — a Friday pizza party.

Business units have begun to adopt games, primarily for training and customer engagement. But that’s not enough. Determine how your department can harness the power of gaming to generate potential solutions to IT’s most complex challenges. Capitalize on brainpower available from employees, business partners and departments across the enterprise. The price is right!

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