Could harnessing the power of computer games solve some of the problems the world is facing? Should we be encouraging more people to spend more time in virtual worlds? Are our gaming obsessed kids learning deeply important collaborative and problem solving skills through computer games – skills that our education system just cannot provide?

All provocative questions that challenge mainstream thinking about the advent of the computer game. Taking a sharp divergence from the stereotypical image of the useless computer game geek, Jane McGonigal argues that our retreat into the realm of fantastic virtual worlds will lead to a new understanding of our real world. She argues that gaming should be properly understood, actively encouraged and used as a force for social good.

This is a hard perspective to take – especially in a media landscape saturated by negative gaming attitudes. One report from the Sun warns that gaming has the “same effect on a child’s brain as a line of cocaine”. And another report warns that 3 out of 5 children are hooked to games at levels that lead to truancy, theft and psychological difficulties. Even whilst Jane McGonigal was delivering her talk a audience member couldn’t help but giggle at the suggestion we should be spending more time playing computer games.

But her belief in the potential of gaming in incredibly convincing, and she provides compelling evidence based on previous “real world” games.

It is important to remember that games are already used by the military – ‘America’s Army’ is a first person shooter game with over 6 million registered users. It is used to recruit new soldiers and train recruits how to fight in different environments and situations. A recent UK army commercial focused on a soldier using an Xbox 360 controller whilst in the field.

So why let gaming only be used for war? First person shooters are only a fraction of the total amount of gaming experiences that could be utilised for application in the real world. If there is no stopping us on our exodus into virtual reality then we need to make sure we don’t give the masters of war too much of a head-start.