Blog Post

My Jelly Belly Recipe for the Future of Health Equity

xboxWhen something intrigues you, said Jane McGonigal at the 2014 Games for Change Festival #G4C14 last week,

that’s a signal from the future you want to create.

Paying attention to these signals can change your life.

Immediately I thought of the signals that had brought me to #G4C14. It started in early 2012 when I read Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn by Cathy Davidson. I learned our current educational system was designed in the industrial age to create good workers for the manufacturing industry. The evolution, it would seem, would come through the gamification of education.

I had been kind of bah-humbug about my then six-year-old stepson playing Play Station 2 games but by the end of the book, I was sold. Games are good for your brain! I won the stepmom of the year award for that one.

Then I saw McGonigal speak at the Communications Network 2012 annual conference. She suggested that the one billion gamers on our planet could be our greatest allies for social change. With the game Foldit, gamers were able to decipher in 10 days the crystal structure of a monkey virus that causes AIDS. Scientists had been unable to do the same for 15 years. (Read more about Foldit here.)

The signal from the future looked roughly like can game play expand health equity?

Since then I’ve been thinking about how the Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health) could enable this through grant-making.

And that’s how I ended up at #G4C14.

Back to #G4C14: Next, McGonigal asked about Jelly Belly recipes. I had no idea what those were, probably because I prefer Starburst Jelly Beans.

jelly belly recipe

As in the illustration above, when you put different combinations of Jelly Belly beans in your mouth, you get a different flavor all together.

So why not put different signals together, like the jelly beans? The rest of McGonigal’s keynote was her sharing her recipes of signals that led to her vision of what award-winning games would look like in 2024. Then we got to vote.

I detest football. So instead here's a picture of my beloved Starburst jelly beans giving me happy signals.

I detest football. So instead here’s a picture of my beloved Starburst jelly beans giving me happy signals.

My personal favorite was:

Fact that people abandon fitness trackers after 90 days + Zombies Run + Fantasy Healthball + NFL concussion lawsuits & fan guilt = MEGA NFL

My husband can attest to my detestation of football. But I really like the idea of fans pooling together their exercise to, say, buy an extra down for the San Francisco 49’ers in a game. It seemed crazy motivating and I liked the idea of fans having skin in the game, so to speak. (Read more Jane’s other predicted games here.)

She also asked us to pay attention to all of the signals we got throughout the festival. Cue me taking copious notes and straining my eyes in a darkened auditorium to do so.

Here were the jelly beans, or signals, I gathered:

  • Games are complex. But they’re also so simple that kids and even pets make them, all the time. @helvetica.
  • Video games are just a tool. Teaching how to make games is the real social change. @helvetica
  • Yes, you can build critical thinking skills with game play. GlassLab’s Argubot Academy, made in partnership with NASA, is a SIM City-style game where middle-school age kids make evidence-based decisions on how to develop a Mars colony. And kids loved it because they had the power to shape the future. @glasslabgames
  • United Nations Habitat used Minecraft to democratize urban planning with communities in need. Residents of Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, came together to re-plan their one area of open space – in Minecraft. People who couldn’t read or write quickly took to the game mechanics and created a plan that they were then confident enough to present to city planners.
  • Multi-tasking is indeed good for you, and improves cognition in the elderly. Could Project Evo be the world’s first prescription video game?
  • Dan Ariely suggested that creating changes in health behavior means combining risk and reward. Better to plant a little explosive in every million cigs to decrease smoking.
  • If you want to cry, read about the game That Dragon, Cancer, a game about the moments of grace (the feeling that a moment is more meaningful than the sum of its parts) that occur when you’re caring for a toddler with terminal cancer. The video of Joel alternately receiving treatment and playing with puppies made me cry and tethered me to my seat. Kids even wanted to play this game. And they would play for at least 20-30 minutes.

Simplicity + Games as equalizer between a community and its “helpers” + Complexity + Risk & Reward + Empathy = ???

I hope we don’t end up BeanBoozled. That would taste gross. Stay tuned for the results of the recipe.

I’m really curious to know if when you read this, you got a signal from the future. Did you?



Creative Commons XBox 360 Fun” by Davidlhor Besco used under CC License 2.o.

Creative Commons Smile” by Incase used under CC License 2.0.