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US Deputy CTO Beth Noveck on gaming and open governance

The Obama administration is looking seriously into how games and virtual technologies can advance national policy priorities, from energy use to financial literacy to citizen diplomacy, announced White House Deputy CTO Beth Noveck at the United States Institute of Peace‘s presentation, “Smart Tools for Smart Power: Simulations and Serious Games for Peacekeeping.” As one of the Obama administration’s lead personnel on government openness, Noveck focused on citizen collaboration and civic engagement, but as founder of the State of Play conferences at New York Law School, she also spoke to games and virtual worlds in their own right.

Beth NoveckSome of the key areas that the Administration is exploring include:

  • How might web-based games spur development or help to deepen the ties between the US and the Muslim world?
  • Can games tackle major ed challenges – learning readiness, dropout rates, literacy, STEM
  • Topical priorities: STEM, child obesity, adult basic skills, youth entrepreneurship, energy audits

As far as the power of games, Noveck mostly focused on virtual technologies, noting that “seeing oneself on the screen is critical… When we see ourselves – what does that mean for our ability to coordinate socially? What does it mean for decisionmaking and peacemaking?” She notes that it’s “amazing” to be able to sit in certain White House meetings where everyone is at least familiar with the concept of World of Warcraft. (No one asked if Obama himself is among them)

Weighing in on a long-standing argument in the “Serious Games” movement, Noveck noted that “serious games” should neither mean dull nor pedantic. She does state, as do many educators speaking to learning, that there ought to be many means of civic engagement as there are people who want to engage, so that there’s not just one single path to getting involved.

Noveck also spoke to strategies for how the government can undertake these initiatives, specifically, how to foster partnerships or other mechanisms (contests?) and how to measure impacts and outcomes. One recurring issue whenever White House technology is discussed is how the government can afford to take the risk of experimentation, especially given that gaming is considered highly risky (thus the need for the “serious games” appellation). One of the strategies is likely to foster “copycats” who improve upon the rudimentary experiments that the White House fosters, which Noveck says is already happening. At a minimum, there is hope that the CTO’s office can be a hub of innovation where civic-minded people and organizations can gather to share innovative ideas and make them happen — perhaps even, Noveck suggested in answer to a question, a “center for gaming.” (“Let’s talk,” she said to the questioner).

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Cross-posted at Valuable Games

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