To anyone wondering whether the gaming for good movement is actually a thing, we’ve got news for you. Less than a month after launch, we hit our first monetization goal with a $50K grant to EarthDay.org. KATOA was also featured as one of Apple’s “Best New Games.” We’d say that’s a pretty solid start.
There are myriad intellectual and emotional aspects to engagement with a gaming platform. We’ve talked about the psychological pull of the potential for success, the sociological desire to be part of a likeminded community, and the human need for story and problem-solving. With KATOA, there’s another dimension, and it’s probably the most interesting part of Sankari Studios’ mission.
What does altruism do to your brain?
After all, KATOA is first and foremost a giving mechanism, and we tend to see philanthropy as rooted in altruism. But what is activated in the cerebellum when doing good is the chief reason for gameplay? Why do people say yes to a download, and why would they play to reward someone or something other than themselves?
The answer is not simple, but it IS super interesting. To find out, we have to start at the beginning.
PhilosophyNow.org broke our brains with its review of David Sloan Wilson’s book “Does Altruism Exist?” By asking if pure ethics exist at all, we’re agreeing that the answer is up for debate. We take the stance behind Richard Dawkins that evolutionary biology insists upon altruism, however it is achieved. That is to say: Benevolent actions by one are driven by the instinct to continue the species. A mother lion feeds her cubs because of a genetic compulsion to survival and extending the bloodline. Darwin would like this, we think. But what happens when those messy humans are involved? We’re seldom motivated solely by biology. Our decision to perform actions that benefit others is down to how that makes us feel.
Using exclusively humans as the model, Kendra Cherry, MSEd, explores altruism as acting out of concern for the well-being of other people on verywellmind.com. She links examples, types, and definitions to assign value to altruism, and whether it is inherently and always ‘good.’ She also outlines its pitfalls, which can include creating risk, self-neglect, and unintended outcomes. Her stance on altruism is centered on the self (better health better mental well-being, better romantic relationships). She ends by saying altruism is generally ‘worth pursuing.” But she doesn’t say why.
A recent study by UCLA may hold hold the key.
Author Meg Sullivan begins by invoking Rousseau’s notion of the “noble savage” and Hobbes’ “selfish brutes.“ Good start, but which is accurate? She describes recent studies that suggest humans might be hardwired for altruism. Researchers scanned participants’ brains while they watched videos of a hand being poked and then imitated emotions. A second study featured participants being given money to keep or share. In both cases, the participants with the least activity in the prefrontal cortex proved to be uncaring and stingier, while those with the strongest responses in the areas of the brain perceiving pain and emotion were the most responsive and generous. They referred to this tendency as ‘prosocial resonance,’ which they believe to be the primary force behind altruism.
In our investigation here, we believe a case could be made that gaming for good is the link between biological and prosocial altruism. By understanding that the neural pathways supporting empathy and the moral compass are the same as the biological need to continue the species, AND the pleasure and reward centers of the brain… THAT is a powerful combination.
Our work with KATOA is about far more than raising money for causes. That is the root mechanism of fulfilling our mission, but the mission itself is to save the world from the effects of climate change. We will continue to demonstrate success, draw conclusions from research and build hypotheses. Finding a partner to study the phenomena unlocked in gaming for good will be the key to building a case for prosocial behavior, with games like KATOA at the forefront. Imagine what else we could unlock.