At least that’s the claim made in this video. (It might be worth pointing out that the video itself is 19.5 minutes long, so it’s a net loss of 12 minutes of your life, but trust us, it’s still worth it.) The speaker is Jane McGonigal, one of the luminaries in the field of transmedia game design who has always focused her work on the power of games to do good—social good, environmental good, and in this instance, personal good. McGonigal doesn't work for a game company, but for a think tank called the Institute for the Future (which has to be the coolest thing to see on your paychecks). It's an important distinction that has tended to lend her gamer advocacy an element of legitimacy. A word of warning—this video gets a little heavy. It deals in a direct manner with the regrets of the dying and with suicidal thoughts, but all in the interest in a hopeful and empowering message.
Briefly, for those of you who don't want to take the time to watch the video, McGonigal’s message is that games successfully address many, if not all, of the primary regrets that people express on their death beds. To illustrate this she talks about a game that she developed (SuperBetter) to deal with her recovery process after an improperly healed brain injury. She goes on to outline simple ways to improve mental, physical, emotional, and social resilience in order to not only improve the quality of one's life, but also (based on numerous scientific studies) the length of one's life.
It's interesting to see someone take such a holistic approach to the "games are good" argument. It's something a lot of game developers and game enthusiasts have tried to make over the years, and there is a lot of valid evidence to support the contention, but McGonigal effectively doubles down on the claim by arguing that games are not only a good thing, but that they serve the highest good of improving human life. McGonigal does a good job of remaining relatively game genre agnostic (the two games she does mention by name are the über-popular casual games Farmville and Angry Birds). This is a smart move, since the kind of games that McGonigal is talking about are probably not of the "shoot people in the face until there's no more people with faces left to shoot" variety, but by not specifically alienating this massive portion of gaming culture, she maintains a position with broad appeal.
McGonigal has her critics, of course, and they point out that her arguments for the value of games (made not only in the video above but other presentations like her TED talk from 2010, and her book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How they Can Change the World) are oversimplified and lack direct connection to the scientific studies that she claims support her. Those are probably fair assessments, but in McGonigal’s support, she's basically claiming that doing stuff you enjoy makes you enjoy the stuff you’re doing. It may be an oversimplification but that doesn't make it not true.
Do you think games make the world a better place?