Games & Innovation

Dr. Mikael Jakobsson, 2023

The Games and Innovation project explores the role game creators play in technological innovation and dissemination in society. From the rapid evolution of personal computer technology to crucial advances in artificial intelligence, the game industry has been driving the agenda of what is achievable using digital technology.

This study aims to address an existing knowledge gap, developing the understanding of the outward projection of social and technological innovation that originated in the game industry. This project will explore the ways gaming technologies have expanded to a broad range of other application areas including science, medicine, education, manufacturing, architecture, urban planning, and the arts.

By identifying convergence points between game industry innovation and societal change, we can add a layer of understanding to the role games play in society, and better understand the interplay between the driving forces behind interactive entertainment as a commercial endeavor and broader cultural developments.


White Paper

Games & Innovation: The Role of Games in Societal Innovation
Mikael Jakobsson & Laurel Carney, MIT Game Lab 2023
Download full paper.


Executive Summary

This white paper explores the profound impact of gaming on various sectors of society, underlining the interconnectedness between game development, technological advancements, and societal innovation.

We begin by tracing the relationship between technology and interactive entertainment experiences before the advent of video games. This section highlights the interplay between societal changes, technological innovations, and the creation of new playful experiences. We look at the Phantasmagorias of the 19th century, immersive horror theater shows that utilized mobile projectors and sensory stimulation to create terrifying experiences which in many ways are comparable to today’s virtual reality horror games. We also discuss the rise of arcades enabled by advancements in lighting and steel construction, which incorporated early projection technologies and phonographs, showing that as we reinvent the shape of play to fit new environments, we rely on technological advances as well as contribute to innovation that leads to benefits outside of the field of entertainment.

The paper then describes gaming’s role in the home computer revolution. It showcases how the design of the groundbreaking Apple II computer was built on insights from arcade game development, with its co- creator, Steve Wozniak, envisioning that a computer capable of playing games “could do anything.” We also discuss the Commodore Amiga, the first home computer with dedicated chips for audio and graphics. The computer was made to challenge home gaming consoles, but represented a significant step forward in home computers hardware architecture, resulting in new application areas.

Next, the paper outlines how gaming technologies have influenced sectors beyond entertainment. We delve into the use of gaming engines and augmented reality in the preservation of cultural heritage, exemplified by virtual reproductions of historical sites and artifacts. We also show the impact of game engines on architecture, construction, and car design, allowing for real-time design modifications and the creation of photorealistic visualizations at impressive speeds.

We then cover the role of gaming in education, showcasing how flight simulators, initially born from arcade and home computer games, revolutionized pilot training. The paper also highlights the application of game-based technology in firefighting and medical training, enabling immersive and safe virtual learning environments for those in high-risk fields.

In the following section we examine the connection between gaming and artificial intelligence (AI), starting with Alan Turing’s Imitation Game, which established games as testbeds for modeling non- human actors, up to recent breakthroughs in AI systems trained by playing video games.

Finally, we look at how computer games have shaped our online lives by facilitating networked social interaction and digital economies long before the emergence of modern social media. Games also serve as content creation tools for the entertainment industry, including sports and broadcasting, while streaming platforms like Twitch have influenced the rise of user-generated content and digital broadcasting.

Our paper highlights the beneficial effects the game industry has had on various domains and game developers will undoubtedly continue to play an important role in pushing the boundaries for technologies that can change all aspects of life. With this great potential for impact comes a great responsibility. In order to rise to this challenge, the game industry has to take greater ownership of the role games play as a dynamo for societal innovation and improve equitable participation.

Key Takeaways

  • Games have historically both, been influenced by, and driven technological advancements beyond the gaming industry itself.
  • The design and capabilities of home computers, including their ability to generate color graphics and sound, were heavily influenced by game development.

  • Game technology such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3D modeling tools, has revolutionized sectors like archaeology, architecture, industry prototyping, and design.

  • Games are instrumental in training and education, with simulations and game-based technology now used in aviation, firefighting, medical training, and disaster response.

  • Games have been essential to the development of artificial intelligence from the very beginning, serving as proving grounds for training non-human actors and major advancements in machine learning.

  • The game industry has a responsibility for the role games play as a dynamo for social change and innovation, and has to improve equitable participation in order to rise to this challenge.


Funding for this project was provided by Tencent. Its content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the views of its funder.