Zhenghua Yang TEDx Video Games

Video Games Saved My Life and How They Will Save Yours – TEDx (Video + Full Transcript)

Video Games Saved my Life and How they Might Save Yours – TEDx (Full Transcript)

Yesterday, I spent three hours hanging out with some of my best friends whom I haven’t seen for years. And today, with only three hours of time, I accomplished a major goal in life and I feel absolutely amazing.

What did I do? Well, I’m a gamer, and I play around three hours of League of Legends every day.

Video games define our world. They’ve played a huge part of my life and I wouldn’t be here today without them.

Because – when I was eighteen years old, I was diagnosed with a severe and chronic blood disorder that caused me to bleed if I made even the smallest muscle movements. I dropped out of school and was hospitalized. I was forced to stay in my room, and mostly in bed for two straight years. At first, doctors told me that I wouldn’t survive longer than a few days, maybe weeks. These were the two most difficult years I’ve ever had. Not because I was in pain or because therapy was difficult. It was hard because I had lost the hope to accomplish anything in life. I had lost contact with all of my friends. I had people who later told me they thought I was dead. My family suffered alongside me. My parents didn’t know what to do or how to make me feel better. We all lived with the constant danger that I could die at any moment.

Zhenghua Yang Death Bed

Through these two years, through my loneliness and despair, I turned to the only thing that gave me meaning. And that is, playing video games. I began playing all sorts of games, such as the multiplayer online game, League of Legends. With over 10,000 hours logged, I made friends from all over the world. These internet friends of mine didn’t even speak English, but they would check up on me, making sure that I’ve been taking my medicine and asking if I’ve been getting the proper amount of rest. Not only that, one of my online friends was a medical researcher and he connected me with some of the world’s best hematologists. With his recommendations, I met with doctors who gave me critical advice that kept me alive. The amazing thing is, to this day, I still don’t even know my friend’s real name.

Throughout the next two years, I slowly began to recover. However, I couldn’t help but think back and ask myself: these games like League of Legends were not designed to help me. Yet, they did. What kind of power would we be able to unlock if we began making games with the intention to help others? That’s when I began my work in creating value-driven video games. I started Serenity Forge, a Boulder based company that focuses on creating meaningful games. We first turned the story of my illness into a non-fictional video game called Loving Life, which is now used in classrooms around the nation to inspire students, helping them value their lives. Since then, we’ve created dozens of different types of games that inspire art, foster education, and promote health.

Now before I dive in to the details, I want to ask you a quick question. what do we think of when we think of the word “gamers”? Perhaps the teenage boys who sit in a basement shooting people inside their TVs? Well, the Entertainment Software Association studies show that in 2015 there are 135 million people who play more than 3 hours of video games per week in the US alone. That’s around 42% of the nation’s population.

10 - 135 Million Stat

More surprisingly, there are actually more gamers above the age of 50 than there are below the age of 18.

12 - Age

Additionally, video games are not the boy’s club by any means, with 56% of the gamers male, and 44% of the gamers female. There’s actually more than double the amount of women gamers above the age of 18, than boys 18 or younger.

13 - Women 18 and older

League of Legends alone has 67 million active players worldwide, which is about 3 million greater than the population of the UK or France. What this means is that video games are everywhere and played by anyone. As I dug deeper into how we could push this medium forward and subsequently change so many peoples’ lives, I found 5 major areas how video games will change our world in the next 10 years. They are:

  • Education
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Business Operations
  • Scientific Research
  • Social Impact

Throughout all of college, I’ve always wished that there were more personal, interactive, and engaging ways to learn. I’ve always found that the best way to learn is through play, and this makes video games the best educational tools. Video games are inherently educational. However, it’s really up to the game on what it’s teaching you specifically. You could be learning rules on how to line up colorful blocks to beat a level, or you could be intuitively understanding logical computations to answer real world problems. A great example of this would be DragonBox, a game that turns algebra into puzzles. The game tells the story of a timid dragon who’s hiding in a box and requires the players to make algebraic computations using colorful symbols for the dragon to be able to eat and grow. Through it, kids are exposed to various mathematical computations, order of operations, and often all without even seeing a single number on the screen. Inspired by learning through play, we’ve also released a game called Luna’s Wandering Stars. It’s an addictive puzzle game that plays like Angry Birds, but we added 100% realistic planetary physics into the gameplay so by playing, kids would learn rocket science without even realizing it.

Now I recently graduated from CU Boulder, and one of my proudest achievements during my time here is earning my certificate in Socially Responsible Enterprise. Through my studies, I’ve found that video games are excellent in encouraging environmental sustainability. In 2010, Nissan introduced their new electric car, the Nissan Leaf, which has a very unique video game designed to change your driving habits. When driving the Leaf, you will see a game on the seven inch LCD screen called Carwings. The system shows distance traveled and energy consumed in daily, monthly and annual reports. More importantly, just like any other game, it compares your stats and driving habits against all other Leaf vehicles on the road. When driving the Leaf, you and every other Leaf driver are “racing” to see who can save the most amount of energy, winning the platinum Leaf cup.

As I finished school and began running the company, I slowly transitioned the mentality of learning through play, into working through play. And it turns out that video games are amazing business tools as well. Businesses have been using video games to facilitate operations for more than a decade. This first began with games like Second Life where businesses were able to host large scale online-in-person meetings, and later polished even more with games like Eve Online where the game is so complex that real world businesses and finances would literally take place purely through the game. Companies around the world use games for on boarding training, HR procedures, and even business to business functions. With the recent expansion of virtual reality technology, we now have company executives that conduct worldwide meetings, while essentially sitting in the comfort of their own living room. A research study I’m currently conducting shows evidence that the amount of brain processing power it takes to play the massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft closely emulates the processing power of a typical 9 – 5 job in a cubical. In the next few years, work will continue to be designed to be more like games, turning something that people often feel boring or unfulfilling, into an engaging, fun, and challenging experience.

Speaking of challenge, some of the most challenging professions in our society are the medical researchers who work day and night to advance our technology and ultimately, save lives. Challenge is actually a very unique trait that’s found in video games and play. That’s right, video games are also amazing in facilitating scientific research. The best part of video games is that they’re fun to play. This means that a well designed game can attract millions of players who would work out of leisure. An even better designed game would use the work that millions of players have put into, and with it, achieve something great. A prime example of this is a puzzle game created by researchers at the University of Washington called Foldit. In the game Foldit, players are given computer generated puzzles that are actually molecular protein structures that the players will have to fold to solve. The data generated is then sent back to the research labs to be used in real world protein research. Within just ten days of releasing the puzzle in 2011, Foldit players deciphered and produced an accurate 3D model of an AIDS-causing Mason-Pfizer Monkey virus, a scientific problem that had been unsolved for the past 15 years.

Lastly, there is one final key topic that is near and dear to my heart. That is the role that video games play in addressing worldwide social issues. A non-profit organization called Free Rice created a web-based game at freerice.com that challenges players to answer word definitions. For each correct answer, the organization donates 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme to help end world hunger. The organization is funded from the small banner advertisements that you see while you answer these questions, making a closed system where players literally generate the money to feed the impoverished. Since the website’s launch in 2007, the organization has helped donate 100 billion grains of rice, feeding over 5 million people worldwide.

Video games are not just toys for kids and we must begin treating them with a practical perspective. Two gamers can play side by side virtually in a game of League of Legends, working together to achieve a common goal. They do not need to share the same language, the same culture, or even the same world beliefs. It doesn’t matter if they are American, or Chinese; Israeli, or Palestinian. Our next Nobel Peace Prize winners are no longer just going to be the influential artists or the policy generators, but maybe instead, it will be the kid who’s in a garage right now creating the next big game that brings the world together through play. When I was going through chemotherapy, when I was on my death bed, I had no hope of a future. In the end, video games saved my life, and they just might save yours too.

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