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Games: How Nicole Lazzaro Makes a Difference With Tiltworld

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Nicole Lazzaro is my hero in many ways. She is a pioneer of video games; she studied the psychology behind them at Stanford and created a consulting company, XEODesign, that provides leading-edge expertise on "first-player experience design" on the emotion and the fun of games. She's in a leading position in the gaming industry. She's not afraid to be a little different, to be a pioneer.

That attitude has served her well as she's helped develop games for big-name clients like EA, Ubisoft, Sony, and Sega. She's conducted innovative, extensive research into the emotions behind gaming to help those clients make successful games. Measuring the facial expressions of thousands of people as they played games like Tetris, Halo, and Call of Duty, she developed a theory of why people game, called the "Four Keys of Fun." Some people play for challenge, the first key, or what she calls "hard fun." Others play for novelty, the second key, or "easy fun." Still others play for connection, the third, or "people fun." And others play for meaning, the fourth, or "serious fun." Of course, many people play for a combination of those types of fun, and the most successful games are usually the ones incorporate multiple types.

But of those four types, Nicole predicts that there will be more games in the "meaning" category, more games that connect play with purposeful improvement in real life. XEODesign has, in fact, developed its own "serious fun" game, TiltWorld, to position itself at the forefront of gaming. Tiltword is simple and cute in concept: tilt your iPad/iPod to help Flip, the main character, reforest his home of Shady Glen. By removing blight, eating carbon from the air, planting mushrooms to detoxify the soil, and capturing fireflies as an alternative energy source, players help Flip grow virtual trees. The cool thing is the more players grow virtual trees, the more they acquire Tilt Points, and the more real trees are planted in Madagascar, which has suffered from deforestation in real life.

Indeed, WeForest, which is the nonprofit through which TiltWorld enables this, says, "In the last decades, development of urban areas, overfishing, rice farming, salt production and erosion caused by tree-cutting in the highlands threaten the unique mangrove-based ecosystem of the west coast of Madagascar." Replanting seeds that fall off of other mangrove trees will restore not only the ecosystem but also the economy of the area, as the workers actually doing the replanting are locally-hired and trained, not only how to replant, but how to harvest in a more sustainable manner. They then become more self-sufficient, able to repair their homes after the cyclone season, send their children to school, experience a balanced diet, pay for medical services, and even purchase comfortable clothing.

I don't know about you, but any game that helps accomplish those objectives, while keeping the fun factor, is a winner in my book. And any woman who can create such a game is a hero.

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