Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Jane McGonigal

Has done a rather interesting TED talk. I suspect it briefly touches on some of the subjects of her new book: Reality is Broken.

She claims she wants people to spend more time playing online games to solve the world's problems. This is based on a few things, including the idea of the emotion of the 'epic win'. An epic win is an outcome so positive that you had no idea it was even possible to achieve it until you are on the verge of it. These situations happen in games, but rarely in real life. She says the more normal feeling in real life is 'I'm not good at life' - or the feeling that you are not as good in real life as you are in the games.

She goes on to look at why games are making us feel so good about ourselves. Game challenges are always available, always sound epic or important and yet are carefully targeted to the ability of the gamer so that they are on the edge of what they can achieve. No unemployment, no twiddling thumbs or time to wallow. In addition to that you get plenty of positive feedback in terms of levelling up, which is missing in real life.

There is an incredible statistic that people have so far spent 5.93 million years online playing World of Warcraft. I think that must be in man-years. That's similar to the amount of time taken for humans to evolve from just standing. Apparently youngsters in countries with significant gaming cultures will spend 10,000 hours playing online games by the time they are 21. Apparently around 10,000 hours is the time taken to become a virtuoso, so she goes on to look at what gamers are learning from playing those games:

  1. Urgent Optimism. There's something that needs doing immediately, and it Can Be Done. 
  2. Weaving a Social Fabric. Proven to like people better after playing games with them (even if they win) because you've trusted them a lot to play the game in the first place. I think there might be some shared experience in that too (see cricket team!) but need to look into references. 
  3. Blissful Productivity. Humans are happiest working, not relaxing. Gamers will work for hours if given the 'right work'. 
  4. Epic Meaning. Gamers weave truly epic stories, and are used to operating with tasks that have a big effect. 
The problem is that they are changing virtual worlds rather than real worlds. The economist Edward Castronova describes what's happening as a mass-exodus from real to virtual worlds. Jane McGonigal believes that people are escaping their broken real world problems to virtual worlds, where they can form better social connections, and feel like they are good at it. She's working on games that bring those powers of concentration to the real world. Three so far, and I'd like to follow up on all of them:
  1. World without oil - piloted in 2007. 
  2. Superstruct
  3. Evoke - played in 2010.

Evoke looks particularly relevant as it was shared with universities across sub-Saharan Africa.

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