Inspirational Gamer of the Week: Jane McGonigal – “How Gaming Can Make A Better World”

Evening fellow gamers. Once again the time is upon us this week to credit a gamer with a twinge of an inspirational “Hallelujah” – and this week it’s a designer, who is also a gamer. Her name is Jane McGonigal and she’s the author of a fantastic book that I think anyone interested in game design for the future should check out. The book is called “Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Happy, and How They Can Change the World.” I know – it’s a long title, but honestly, this book is an astonishing and eye-opening read and I recommend anyone who gets a chance to read it immediately. Today I choose to promote McGonigal as my “Inspirational Gamer of the Week” because what she’s aiming for in the gaming universe can serve to help all types of problems, from economic to even the physical, if we as designers can begin to make intuitive design choices for our fellow gamers to learn more, rather than just play more.

In this video I’m going to post McGonigal posts some really interesting facts about our gaming society, for one being that, as a human society we currently spend almost 3,000,000,000 hours a WEEK playing online games. That’s certainly one reason then why the games market has made a move to make multiplayer aspects in games more common place in most modern games. This being said there are other things to consider – like the fact that all of those hours add up to us developing personal skills, that we otherwise wouldn’t feel confident, committed to, or driven to succeed in our normal given lives. The virtual worlds we immerse ourselves in become a safe haven for us to accomplish goals, achieve new successes, and feel proud of our endeavors. We have become problem solvers of a digital age, however, looking at the current games market – there’s far too many bullet sequences of FPS shooters, and accomplishing virtual achievements that we have lost focus on real world problems.

McGonigal insists that there is a way to change this notion. The heavy rate of play by players all around the world, provides an outlet for a mass exodus of creative collaboration between players all over the world. She is exploring the wonders of the gaming industry, not simply from a consumer stance, but from a humanistic, evolutionary stance. In her book she explains how our human societies have evolved through the process of learning with the means of games. It’s a fascinating study, but one aspect that really gets me is that her theories are all right. If designers began to look at ways to solve real world problems through collaboration with gamers then imagine what we could accomplish as people.

The economic crisis we face today, the oil shortages, wars, all of these aspects and scenarios of life could possibly be first tackled virtually through the form of games. Success is a hard thing to come by for some folks. They lack the confidence to speak their minds to others. They lack confidence in their ideas, share their thoughts, convey anything that means something to them. Games change that aspect of a person. In games, we become a virtual representation of ourselves. We are no longer “Mr. So-and-So” or “Mrs. What’s-Her-Face.” – we become “Player 1” and omnipotent, anonymous entity, who’s identity means nothing towards the goal of solving the problems at hand.

I’ll give an example. We currently see that in this lifetime we’re going through one of the largest financial depressions in global history. If I were to design a game around the financial crisis, and then I were to give gamers the controls and said, “Alright. The scenarios in this game are fictional, but they are very real possible outcomes of what would occur if we don’t fix the problems within the game. Fix it.” Could you? – and what would your steps be to get there? These are all questions you’d have to ask yourself in the confines of the game.

Gamers do this scenario all the time in virtual worlds, so why would it be hard to ask them to collaborate and become heroes within a virtual world that mimicked our own? McGonigal is an inspiration to me, because she stands for both gamers and society as a whole. She realizes that gaming, fun, and entertainment are only part of the whole coin of the game industry’s potential. We have billions of players worldwide, who play games for hours upon hours, solving in-game puzzles, quests, deeds, collecting necessary resources, etc. What if we put as much effort into a mimicked reality game as some folks do into Skyrim or World of Warcraft? – imagine the things we could do, the solutions we could produce. Our lives are fading into a virtual world, dominated by virtual presences with virtual story lines.

They, sadly, sooth us for the moment, and then leave us wanting more or leave us with a desire to obtain more accomplishment. If life were a game and each aspect of your life was dictated into “Accomplishments”, “Trophies” or “Achievements” how would yours pan out? Would you be able to look back on your gaming resume and say that you made a difference in the world? – that your presence or play made an impact on how others lived their lives? These are all questions McGonigal asks. The video is quite long ( 20 minutes. )

If you have that time to spare, great, I encourage you to watch the video at some point, but if not, don’t fret. It’s not the end of the world, but I will say to check out her book. She’s got phenomenal insight to human sociology and behavior, and she’s striving for a gaming universe where we’re not just some gamer “pwning” society one button input at a time. This is why I respect her so much. She mentions a few games as well in her video and I’ve posted links to them at the bottom if you’d like to get more info or see how you too can play. Her work and understanding of the gaming universe could change the way we develop games. The aspects that we focus on no longer have to apply to massive MMO virtual worlds, but rather, virtual worlds that assist real world problems.

Can you imagine a world that’s cancer free – due to gameplay creating a solution? Can you imagine if we solved diseases, financial instability, etc. – with social interactive gameplay? The world is out there, and now it’s up to designers and fellow gamers to grasp. I hope we do, and I can’t wait to see the future of gaming if it’s being promoted by this idea. Oh, and one note, I put the video into English Subtitles for the hearing impaired. If you need it in another language, feel free to click the video and it should carry you to where I got the video. They have tons more speakers and thinkers there that you can check out if you’re interested.

Evoke: A Graphic Novel + World Finance Game

World Without Oil: A Social Change Simulation

Superstruct: [ This game is no longer active, but the archive videos are pretty awesome.]

Much love and happy gaming to a better future! I look forward to a day when even console games get in on this social change action!