A congressional commission co-chair, Erskine Bowles, has asked Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer about the possibility of developing a game that allows players to solve the national budget deficit. This is certainly a stretch of the word ‘game’ by any means, but the news is a sign that games represent more than just entertainment: they represent a key way to get the interest of the population. The game mechanics are still undetermined, but former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey, who worked on a similar commission in 1994, thinks a title like this could “go viral”, possibly implying that the game would do best to leverage social networks.
The project also leverages the concept of ‘crowdsourcing’. Crowdsourcing refers to openly giving a problem out to the people of the Internet and asking them to provide innovative solutions for problems. By leveraging millions instead of the 20 or 30 people on the committee, unique solutions quickly arise. This can also be done to get cheap expertise, as Facebook did when they crowdsourced the translation of their site. Users from around the world pitched in to help translate Facebook to several languages.
According to GameSpot, this isn’t the first time the government has worked with games: “if Microsoft ends up developing a virtual budget balancer, it won’t be the first government-backed non-entertainment game. In 2007, the Homeland Security department began developing a game to help train Border Patrol and Customs Enforcement officers. The department also commissioned the game Zero Hour: America’s Medic to instruct emergency responders from Virtual Heroes, a company that makes training simulations using game tech.”
On top of this is the more popular America’s Army game, which was created by the US Army for $32.8 million to use as a recruiting tool.