Digital Distractions for Good

Will Abbott
Mar 24, 2016 · 3 min read

The average American spends 4.7 hours per day on their smartphone according to a 2015 report from Informate Mobile Intelligence. That’s roughly a third of our waking hours. It’s a familiar pattern. We sit down to study, read or work and are lured within minutes by a flashing screen and the promise of satisfying distraction. With cracking content just a click away, it’s harder to concentrate and deep dive into things that really matter. For me, that’s learning Mandarin, the language of my home away from home for the past 11 years. A tonne of people are also trying to learn Chinese, 100 million in fact, according to the Confucius Institute.

The problem is, Chinese is hard. Really hard. Unlike latin-based languages, Chinese is based on a pictorial system where each word is represented by a different symbol.

So basically Chinese is one big, unfamiliar, mind-boggling memory test. The challenge is how to stay motivated and engaged when confronted with thousands of symbols, various tones, and what feels like, for English speakers, a counter-intuitive grammatical structure. It’s easy to switch off and turn to more immediately rewarding and entertaining endeavours.

Enter video games. The global gamer population is now 1.9billion, feeding a $92billion industry according to 2015 Global Games Market Report by NewZoo. In the US alone, the average young gamer spends up to 10,000 hours immersed in the virtual world before they turn 21. This is the equivalent time a student spends attending school from the fifth grade to high school graduation with perfect attendance (source: Jane McGonical).

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So there’s a huge gaming audience and a huge mobile audience, spending a lot of time on something, with little to show for it. The big question is, how do we harness this addictive, captivating realm for personal, societal and economic improvement.

Gaming for Good…

Digital games with educational objectives are part of a growing industry aiming to elevate high-tech teaching tools. Companies like JumpStart’s ‘Math’s Blaster’ and Lumos Lab’s memory & brain training ‘Lumosity’ have seen success in the “edutainment” segment and our recent project, Mandarin Shooter Quest, aims to further this quest for time better spent accumulating knowledge, than mindlessly slicing 2D fruit on your phone.

We should leverage a mobile-addicted population, brain science, fundamentals of game play, and education to deliver meaningful tools which have measurable real-world benefits for the player. To that end, we are building an adventure-based, reward-based mobile game to help learn foreign languages, starting with Mandarin. If the hours we spend cruising around ‘liking’ photos, blowing up candy pieces and blasting birds out of the sky, were spent acquiring real-world skills, we’d have an even more effective and able community.

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For anyone who supports the idea of making education more engaging and directing the energy, time and focus spent by humanity online into activities which foster more positive outcomes, please support our project by pledging or sharing our Kickstarter campaign.Visit: Or shoot me a note at

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