Int +1
March 18, 2010 5:32 PM   Subscribe

From TED 2010, Jane McGonigal asks if gaming can help create a better world. Previously.
posted by Rory Marinich (73 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Jon Robb over at Global Guerillas has some discussion of this. And a similar presentation. I'm not sold on the idea myself, but it's interesting, anyway. And it makes me feel slightly better about wasting my time on League of Legends....
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:06 PM on March 18, 2010


McGonigal is a funny name.
posted by delmoi at 6:08 PM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Someone only read the first chapter of my book.
posted by localroger at 6:12 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, I'm thinking of being a guinea pig on the Evoke game, but seriously, they need some better writers.
posted by bam at 6:22 PM on March 18, 2010


It's definitely an interesting (and inspiring) lecture. Part of the problem, though, is that while games can inspire an astounding work-ethic towards achieving their goals, that work ethic is tied to a system of rewards that don't translate very well into real life. If one is spending time to try to get better at something, they will naturally reach plateaus. You can suddenly play chords on the guitar, then after some more work, you can do arpeggios, and the solos, and so on. But those plateaus don't come on any dependable timeline. Frustration in games comes from seeing how close you are to a goal without reaching it, and pushes you harder. Frustration in real life comes from an inability to see the goal and your progress towards it, leading to that "I suck at life" face.

While she brings up this issue, she doesn't address it completely. Specifically, how do we build a world in which we can see our progress towards our goals? Is such a world even possible? In a world of so much unemployment, how many people are tending towards going to grad school, where success is measured along a set, institutional path, or towards the military, with rankings and direct orders and clear-cut mission objectives? And if we can get people to collaborate on clear goals, how to we incentivise it individually?

All of that said (and liked the video) she's definitely hit upon something with the "Epic Win" face. Because I'm a fan of The West Wing, it made me think of Norman Borlaug, solving hunger in India by changing the physics of wheat. That's got to be one of the real world's most epic wins in history. And gamers, set on a goal, are apt to come up with these types of solutions.

The virtual world is also one of a finite set of rules, though, and constrained social interation even at its best. As she said, there is no unemployment in the World of Warcraft, and all of the employment is engaging and important. How do we create a world where anyone willing to work can find something to get done, and then how do we economize that?

I ask these questions not to shit on the video, but to build upon it - yes, the gaming mindset can change the world. I totally buy it. But first we have to change the world to create the gaming minset outside of the virtual world.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:24 PM on March 18, 2010 [16 favorites]


Re TED in general, Does the site do text transcripts? Vids only engage the YooToob brain.
posted by jfuller at 6:30 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


All of those qualities that she talks about (optimism, weaving social fabric, collaboration, productivity) aren't anything inherent in gaming itself, but is a naturally occurring human quality.
posted by bam at 6:35 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can I pat myself on the back from the prone position?
posted by jsavimbi at 6:35 PM on March 18, 2010


OK now that I've watched the lecture I can say that my original snark was not far off the mark. Jane McG probably didn't read my book and probably wouldn't like it much, but my protagonist is a gamer. And that focuses a nice blazing light on Jane McG's problem:

The reason gamers don't exhibit all the unpleasant reactions to games that they do to the real world is that if they want to, they can leave the game.

That is itself one of the most important psychological mechanisms in gaming; no matter how much you enjoy the work you do for your job the fact that you are forced to do it makes it unpleasant. No matter how bad you are at World of Warcraft it isn't actually going to kill you. The fundamental problem with making gamespace real is that it won't be gamespace any more; it will be realspace and all those cool things people can do when they aren't stressed out by survival imperatives won't be happening any more.

As Caroline Frances Hubert would probably tell Jane, when you can't stop playing it even if you want to it stops being a game.
posted by localroger at 6:41 PM on March 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


Ah, here we go. I knew her name reminded me of something.
posted by delmoi at 6:44 PM on March 18, 2010


That is itself one of the most important psychological mechanisms in gaming; no matter how much you enjoy the work you do for your job the fact that you are forced to do it makes it unpleasant. No matter how bad you are at World of Warcraft it isn't actually going to kill you. The fundamental problem with making gamespace real is that it won't be gamespace any more

Yeah. This is the fallacy that lies behind the "nudge" style behavioral economics models too. Like if we can only have "achievements" in real life or leveling up or whatever. People enjoy those things, but if you make reality a game or use the law to make 'suggestions' to people they'll be able to tell they're being manipulated and hate it.
posted by delmoi at 6:49 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


she's definitely hit upon something with the "Epic Win" face.

I watched this yesterday and at first I thought she was onto something there initially, and then by the time she she said "Ep1c ______!!!" for the 40 bajillionth time, I was gnashing my teeth. If you have a PhD you should be able to have a few analogous words to better convey gamer l33t Sp34k.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:53 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


but if you make reality a game or use the law to make 'suggestions' to people they'll be able to tell they're being manipulated

that's kinda what's bugging me about this evoke game. the writing isn't that bad, but it takes you out of the game and reminds you that you're "playing" a game that someone is "watching" you play for their own research purposes.
posted by bam at 6:54 PM on March 18, 2010


I am really enjoying this. Thank you Rory. (About halfway in)
posted by Hicksu at 6:56 PM on March 18, 2010


As Caroline Frances Hubert would probably tell Jane, when you can't stop playing it even if you want to it stops being a game.

localroger, meet Farmville. Farmville, meet localroger.
posted by ymgve at 6:57 PM on March 18, 2010


No matter how bad you are at World of Warcraft it isn't actually going to kill you.

Unlike Canada.
posted by qvantamon at 6:58 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


She finally got to the point.....

Use computers to pretend we are running out of oil. (Mad Max anyone)
Pretend we are going to go extinct!

Truly mis-guided lady.
posted by therubettes at 6:59 PM on March 18, 2010


Let me rewrite this headline:

"32-year-old game designer who helped create a couple of small games to help market bigger games, and who only recently has become a game director on some relatively minor, non-commercial projects, says that gaming is good for you, because you can grossly generalize the skills that make a good gamer as being ones that make a better person.

She is best known for talking about her ideas to a crowd of invite-only elitists / well-heeled idealists who were arguably naturally inclined to agree with her."

posted by markkraft at 7:16 PM on March 18, 2010 [11 favorites]


Truly mis-guided lady.

I'm sorry if I'm missing some sarcasm here, but why was this part misguided?
posted by Navelgazer at 7:16 PM on March 18, 2010


Let me rewrite this headline:

"32-year-old game designer who helped create a couple of small games to help market bigger games, and who only recently has become a game director on some relatively minor, non-commercial projects, says that gaming is good for you, because you can grossly generalize the skills that make a good gamer as being ones that make a better person.

She is best known for talking about her ideas to a crowd of invite-only elitists / well-heeled idealists who were arguably naturally inclined to agree with her."


Ahh, yes, the flaw in her plan: that in the virtual world, as in real life, people will inevitably snark at ideas for improvement instead of working to make those ideas better.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:18 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ok, ten minutes in and I'm bored already. There's just so much stuff to get through to figure out what the heck it is that you're actually doing, I don't know if I'm already "playing" the game or if I'm still reading the manual. These guys should talk to Bioware about intuitive controls. Takes me straight out of the fantasy world they're trying to create, and I have to work hard to even be in that world for ten minutes. I'm a super secret agent? Ok yeah sure.

I still think she's got some great ideas but this particular execution in my opinion, was, well, epic fail.
posted by bam at 7:19 PM on March 18, 2010


Jane McG probably didn't read my book and probably wouldn't like it much, but my protagonist is a gamer.

What's the book?
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:22 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


(And no, I'm not saying gaming isn't mentally useful in some ways, as the brain responds positively to all kinds of exercise... but if I were to hire the guy who played WoW obsessively, or the guy who was a master player at chess or did the NY Times crossword every morning and still knew how to use a computer, well... let's just say that WoW addiction isn't exactly something you want to brag about on your resume, and that there are a *LOT* of gamers who are not exactly a poster model for better living.)

All the hardcore gamers I know seem to routinely complain about today's games being dumbed down for the masses. So, if the most experienced and skilled feel that the most successful games are oftentimes stupid and don't reward actual merit or creativity, then it seems to me that McGonigal's vision of a game-driven utopia is about as realistic as saying politics, art, or books can lead to a better world.

In short, she's simply being unrealistic about both her audience, her industry, and what it produces to make a buck.

But hey, she gives good touchy-feely, and that's apparently what counts.
posted by markkraft at 7:30 PM on March 18, 2010


I'm sorry if I'm missing some sarcasm here, but why was this part misguided?

There was no sarcasm. I believe she is mis-guided but I dont have time to elaborate on why I think this, but I will try (very briefly - perhaps I should have not commented as it does some off as snarky).

She ignored all the negative social and health effecting of long-term intensive gaming and created an unrealistic idealised image of gamers as virtuoso forces of good, problem-solvers. She ignored the fact that these gamers are people who are part of and contribute to the worlds problems also.

The power of the virtual world will not translate to be a positive transforming force in the world. Sure there is a lot of energy, expertise and time being wasted by gamers, I dont believe for one moment that it can be harnessed.
posted by therubettes at 7:39 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I dont believe for one moment that it can be harnessed.

I do like that she seems at least willing to try it though.
posted by Hicksu at 7:42 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


She also confuses cause and correlation in that ancient example. I would argue that that massive dice game didn't save their society as much as the end of the cooling period did.
posted by zompus at 7:43 PM on March 18, 2010


I do like that she seems at least willing to try it though.

It is admirable, but y'know that saying 'when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail'. She loves and lives gaming and I reckon that gaming had been such a positive part of her life that she has rationalised a way in which it can save the world.

Unless someone can succinctly summarise her reasoning in a way which reveals it potential more clearly to me, what I heard I thought was just overly-optomistic baseless conjecture.
posted by therubettes at 7:52 PM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Part of the problem, though, is that while games can inspire an astounding work-ethic towards achieving their goals, that work ethic is tied to a system of rewards that don't translate very well into real life.

Some interesting connections with the talk Jesse Schell gave at DICE a few weeks back [previously] about how companies and organizations will use game design to reward us for behavior. If this sort of thing does work, innovation is just as likely to come from the commercial sector as from the humanitarian (depressingly more likely, if history is indicative).

That said, Jane is a cool lady who I met at a few times in San Francisco, often in proximity to cupcakes. Go Jane.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 7:53 PM on March 18, 2010


"Ahh, yes, the flaw in her plan: that in the virtual world, as in real life, people will inevitably snark at ideas for improvement instead of working to make those ideas better."

Oh, bullcrap.

I have a good online friend who is an extremely innovative game designer who was also a groundbreaking web designer back in the heyday of net.art.

She absolutely believes in games and gaming, and of the need for more creative games, but at the same time, she's realistic enough to know that games -- and creative works in general -- aren't going to change the fundamental character of humanity in a good way anytime soon. Indeed, the most successful games rely on borrowed interfaces, old ideas, lots of repetitive grinding, and lightweight mental challenges.

While a gaming renaissance would be nice, the idea that the "good stuff" will find its non-mainstream market and help to spark their creativity is really about as much as as can be hoped for.
posted by markkraft at 7:54 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


As Caroline Frances Hubert would probably tell Jane, when you can't stop playing it even if you want to it stops being a game.
I don't think she is advocating slavery. And to the extent that the modern workplace feels like slavery, it seems simple enough to suggest that it's not a good idea. Ultimately, I think her non-profit think-for-tomorrow angle is easily snarked and works against her presentation.

However, Luis von Ahn seems to have some games that does in fact harness gamer time for some modest but measurable benefit. Even if the total work done is small, it's building a very large and hopefully more reliable corpus to train AI on.
posted by pwnguin at 8:01 PM on March 18, 2010


markkraft, if I understood the lecture properly, it was about using the positive aspects of games upon those playing them in a way which could yield real-world benefits. It's not a perfect idea, and it problematically ignores a lot of things, but it's worth trying to expand and build upon. In games people are focused on goals, and frustration generally leads towards increased efforts towards the goal. There are certainly questions left over, such as how to structure a real-life problem in such a way as to bring out this same mindset, but the fact that the idea came from a game developer who's done a lot of research into gaming behavior shouldn't really invalidate the idea. Who else should we expect such an idea to be coming from?
posted by Navelgazer at 8:02 PM on March 18, 2010


AdamCSnider: Jane McG probably didn't read my book and probably wouldn't like it much, but my protagonist is a gamer.

What's the book?


It's here. I try to avoid self referencing here because I know it's bad mojo.
posted by localroger at 8:05 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


In games people are focused on goals, and frustration generally leads towards increased efforts towards the goal.

There is a key difference between gaming goals and real-world goals. Gaming goals are attainable, therefore there is an incentive to continue striving for them. Real-world goals and real-world problems are not designed to be attainable or solvable. They just are and they are far more complex than any computer game model could be.

Life is not computer code. And gamers, no matter how many and no matter how long they play will not do any better at solving the world problems that monkeys at typewriters would do than Shakespeare.
posted by therubettes at 8:17 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


baseless conjecture

Fair enough. She may not have the right tools to approach the 'problem'.

Her bias, exuberance, and idealism is not particularly confidence inspiring. Still, it looks like she is in the experimentation phase of her work. For instance she talks about her game "World Without Oil", and (without much clarification) says that many of the players have continued with some of the lifestyle choices they made playing the game. This positive result has inspired her to continue. Eventually she may have real data to conclude that the idea does or does not work. I don't remember her saying that she has proven that gamers can save the world, only that there is a possibility of a large pool of potential in the gamer population. This does not seem unreasonable to me.
posted by Hicksu at 8:18 PM on March 18, 2010


therubettes, I agree with you up to a point, but what we're talking about is harnessing a mindset which is devoted to problem-solving. The games she's talking about thus far are trying to use that mindset towards coming up with creative solutions to actual problems, and to make the behaviors that one would exhibit in immersive scenarios translate to real-life behaviors. Neither of those seem either futile or misguided to me.

To bring up the Borlaug example again, it's not crazy to imagine that in some fictional game set up around solving Indian hunger back in the day, that some gamer - not even necessarily a particularly intelligent one - would have expressed frustration that this could all be a lot easier if the wheat weren't falling over on itself.

That seems fairly trivial, but when the World Bank is listening, those kinds of insights could be integral to real change.

Any time a new game comes out, within a few days there will be a Walkthrough posted online about how to beat it. Then the numerous fora will debate the details, find tricks and other ways to game the system.

Her presentation is incomplete and doesn't address everything it should. It also doesn't present all pieces of the puzzle. But it does present the idea that people are happier working for free to solve problems under certain conditions than they are to work for money under other conditions, and that such conditions could possibly be utilized to work on real-world issues. I don't understand the snarky dismissal of the seed of such a concept.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:35 PM on March 18, 2010


It also doesn't present all pieces of the puzzle.

I think I might be approaching the point at which it would be best for me to agree to disagree but not before I make a point based on the notion that she has found a puzzle piece and that in time we/she may find the other pieces and eventually solve the puzzle.

I think she has an interesting fragment of a solution which she believes could one day form part of a larger solution. I think she has just found something which looks like a piece of a solution and while she thinks the solution it forms a part of could ultimately change the world I think that she has just found an interested shiny nuggest and over-estimated its potential. I would speculate that her gamers mindset might to some degree make her believe that all solutions have problems. There is no guaranteed walkthrough for life and its challenges. Life is not a Rubiks Cube.

I am going to leave my side of the arguement there because we can't tell what will happen and we will just end up debating whether or not we should be optomistic/pessemistic about new ideas.

I am sorry for being snarky.
posted by therubettes at 8:51 PM on March 18, 2010


I remember that peak oil game. What a nightmare.

I mean it was engrossing. But I'm afraid that anytime it's going to decide to play me some more.
posted by nervousfritz at 9:08 PM on March 18, 2010


That is itself one of the most important psychological mechanisms in gaming; no matter how much you enjoy the work you do for your job the fact that you are forced to do it makes it unpleasant

Yep. And one reason why you actually see MMO players complain about the game the way they do about work is the comparatively strong social ties (unlike most games) make it very hard to quit. When your circle of friends is all in the game, quitting/not playing is a lot more drastic and unpleasant than not playing Halo or Mario, and comes to resemble an obligation like "real world" work.
posted by wildcrdj at 9:35 PM on March 18, 2010


Huh. I was utterly enchanted by this Ted talk. But then again, I don't play video games.
posted by Toecutter at 9:43 PM on March 18, 2010


She is talking about taking things on as gameplay and that's a good idea, but is nothing new. I mentioned before how she overused the term "Epic", and I believe it's her misuse of the term that really shows the huge problem she's sidestepping. Real life is hardly ever epic and is never experienced as such. Thus the photograph of the Epic Win" face is a novelty. The closest you can get to real life in gameplay is the grind and that photograph is not as fun to look at.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:13 PM on March 18, 2010


McGonigal is a funny name.

First thing I thought of.
posted by brundlefly at 10:28 PM on March 18, 2010


O.K., after this we have to stop. But... I'm kind of surprised her favorite game isn't Quidditch.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:16 PM on March 18, 2010


McGonigal is a funny name.

I took her class at Hogwarts. It was really hard, but she wrote me a nice letter when I applied at the Ministry of Magic.

Anyway, I can tell her what some gamers get really good at: raising chocobos.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:17 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


McGonigal is a funny name.

You mean Hardcastle McCormik.
posted by hellojed at 11:41 PM on March 18, 2010



Go to Las Vegas at around 4:30 am and you will see the true face of the "SUPER-EMPOWERED INDIVIDUAL" gamer.

I felt like I was watching a timeshare presentation.
posted by pianomover at 11:57 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Navelgazer: McGonigal's ambitions and intentions are laudable, but the snark that you find irritating often comes from gamers and game designers who spend a lot of time playing, and making, games like hers. You say: "The games she's talking about thus far are trying to use that mindset towards coming up with creative solutions to actual problems, and to make the behaviors that one would exhibit in immersive scenarios translate to real-life behaviors. Neither of those seem either futile or misguided to me."

It's not futile or misguided, but what's important is to realise quite how hard it is to actually do this in practice. Those games she talked about - World Without Oil, Superstruct - they had a few hundred active players each; that doesn't fill me with any kind of confidence that these games are about to save the world.

Even Urgent Evoke, the latest one she talked about at the end of her conference, funded to a tune of $500k by the World Bank, currently has 11,000 registered players and probably quite a bit fewer active players. What are those guys doing in the game? Most of them are writing blog posts and uploading photos and videos. It's more like a creative writing and imagination exercise than anything else. Most indie games costing $500k would have more players and activity than that.

(and BTW, are you serious when you say 'Because the World Bank is listening, it must be a good idea?' Come on!)

This talk is great, and inspiring, and I can see how it appeals to non-gamers. It is a fantastic piece of pro-gaming propaganda and so I find it difficult to argue against it, given the fact that games could do with some boosting. Even ARGN, a site naturally well-disposed to games like Urgent Evoke, made the very basic point that "while the EVOKE Network has established itself as a powerful collaborative platform, it has not yet demonstrated an equally compelling element of play to make the experience fun."

So, in principle, I love the sentiment. But like Mark Kraft's good online friend, I find it optimistic to the point of foolishness to think that a well-constructed reward and points system will suddenly transform gamers into do-gooders. TED attendees like good stories with simple, startling messages that could save the world, and Jane's talk fits the bill perfectly. The only problem is that the world isn't as simple as that - it never has been in the history of humanity. If you call that snark, fine - but human progress never comes easy, and it doesn't come because someone gives you a shiny reward.
posted by adrianhon at 2:10 AM on March 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


I found this talk a bit too glib for a number of reasons, not least of all because she spends so much time reiterating optimism as a defining gamer characteristic while not even alluding to antisocial game behavior. But my main problem is that she spent all but the last few minutes of her time defining rather than supporting her thesis. Epic win face dude is a memorable image, and the Herodotus stuff adds vaguely respectable color and so forth, but little of that seemed necessary or particularly illuminating. She could have established her line of thought in a few minutes and structured the rest of her talk around describing her three already existing games in order to back up some of the huge claims she's making. So people came up with hundreds of wildly creative solutions to surviving World Without Oil -- how about describing the one or two best? She could have talked about the game's mechanics, especially the way players actually collaborated on these ideas. And she didn't address the question that most interests me at all: how does she plan to bridge between game solutions and real world action? Lots of people are good at creative problem solving in no-risk situations. We're drowning in creative ideas, actually. What we lack is the will or ability to implement them.
posted by melissa may at 4:24 AM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


markkraft: I fail to see how your knowing a game developer instantly renders McGonigal's speech moot. I don't think her talk was entirely without flaw, but if you're going to mock it then I figure you need to back yourself up a little.

Particularly because your friend is at Tale of Tales, which made perhaps two of the most horrid art games I've ever played, and nothing that's been above the level of mediocrity.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:17 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Given that we know a well written book can have a huge impact on people's lives in the area of social justice and humanitarian activity, I think it's fair to aspire to videogames which do the same.
posted by honest knave at 5:40 AM on March 19, 2010


What if your Farmville farm was really a farm in, like, Africa... RUN BY ROBOTS???
posted by LordSludge at 5:59 AM on March 19, 2010


So, in principle, I love the sentiment. But like Mark Kraft's good online friend, I find it optimistic to the point of foolishness to think that a well-constructed reward and points system will suddenly transform gamers into do-gooders. TED attendees like good stories with simple, startling messages that could save the world, and Jane's talk fits the bill perfectly. The only problem is that the world isn't as simple as that - it never has been in the history of humanity. If you call that snark, fine - but human progress never comes easy, and it doesn't come because someone gives you a shiny reward.

So people came up with hundreds of wildly creative solutions to surviving World Without Oil -- how about describing the one or two best? She could have talked about the game's mechanics, especially the way players actually collaborated on these ideas. And she didn't address the question that most interests me at all: how does she plan to bridge between game solutions and real world action? Lots of people are good at creative problem solving in no-risk situations. We're drowning in creative ideas, actually. What we lack is the will or ability to implement them.


This. This is the problem I have with all of her output and data. She just comes off as a snake oil salesmen and I want to call bullshit, but could never articulate why. adrianhohn and markraft have hit the nail on the head.

All of her stuff goes against my own anecdotal data regarding my own life that suggests that no matter how many systems you setup the only system that gets things done is sitting down and doing it routinely and the ONLY thing that can make you do that is caring about the activity on its own merit.
posted by edbles at 6:15 AM on March 19, 2010


I like the idea. Well-defined, shorter term rewards definitely motivate people. For a real-world example that's been used effectively for centuries: martial arts uses a belt system to provide intermediate recognition on the path to mastery of a particular style.

I could certainly see a gaming-style system for higher education -- I'm a "Level 9 Mechanical Engineer, Level 3 in Math" -- to break up that 4-5 years of college into more achievable and more representative chunks. (And, really, it doesn't make sense that somebody who lacks 3 credits to getting a degree is lumped into the same "no degree" group as somebody who never even started college.)

And this is sort-of-already applied to management technique. Achieve X goals, and you'll level up with more money, more responsibilities/capabilities, etc.

Huh. It hadn't occurred to me, but I'm officially Level 3 Tech Support. I wonder if I get any cool spells?

"Charm PC". :-/
posted by LordSludge at 6:43 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


honest knave: Absolutely, any piece of content has the potential to have a huge impact on people's lives, whether it's a book, a TV show, a movie, a newspaper article, a blog, or a game. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. What I question is:

a) whether a given game would be fundamentally better than any of those other media at 'saving the world' (maybe, but we need more evidence and theory - we're certainly not there yet)

b) whether games in general, by dint of their optimistic nature, reward systems, etc, are going to make it easier to save the world (I think not - we're still human, for better or for worse)

c) whether it's even worth talking about 'saving the world' when we can't agree on what parts of the world need saving, let alone how that saving should be done. Even something as 'simple' and clearly 'good' as eradicating malaria gets incredibly messy when you start looking at the long history of previous efforts (e.g. free mosquito nets get sold, used for fishing, etc).
posted by adrianhon at 6:51 AM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


And this is sort-of-already applied to management technique. Achieve X goals, and you'll level up with more money, more responsibilities/capabilities, etc.


The big difference is that game rewards are deterministic and doled out by an algorithm. Real-world achievements are very rarely so. There's corruption, nepotism, sexism and many variables outside your control and outside the control of the organization - such as economic climates. In Education its even worse since grades are inherently qualitative.

The world is a huge, indeterminate frightening place. I'd always gone along with the stereotype of gamers as people who flee this world for a more orderly place, with a more limited and reliable set of rules, where cause A always has effect B and where their ingenuity is valued and not dismissed because of, say, their looks or presentation skills.

The real world rarely has a nice narrative. Most successful people attribute their success to luck and to being in the right place at the right time, rather than to any destiny, something usually later invented by biographers. For every story of people with a "vision" who relentlessly move forward and succeed, there are many more who didn't - they just didn't make the newspaper headlines.

All this is to say is that, the positive forces of gaming are an example of how people can thrive in an orderly and idealized environment which consistently and predictably rewards them for their efforts. Such environments rarely exist in the real world.
posted by vacapinta at 7:16 AM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Adrianhon: I think the implicit advantage of gaming as opposed to other mediums is that it's structured entirely around working in a system. It's not static, in other words; the best games are the ones that encourage you to actively work within limits, and then figure out how to give you some kind of feeling of reward, or some benefit that keeps you going.

I largely stopped playing games — excepting arthouse games, whose attempts to create emotions fascinate me — when I realized the effort I was putting into virtual systems could be invested in other things. I could teach myself songwriting, or design, or I could work out for an hour, and I'd get real-life benefits. But certainly I got into all those things with a gamer's mentality: It doesn't matter if it's slow at first, I'll get slight rewards from it. The further ahead I get the more quickly the rewards come in.

So it's possible to subvert gamer mentality and turn it into actual progress, more than it is to take a bookreader mentality or a cinemagoer mentality. I don't know about saving the world, but certainly you can make the world a better place.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:16 AM on March 19, 2010


Vacapinta: But games have begun working with entropy, also. How do you convince people to play when they aren't rewarded for their efforts? What can you give people that's not an instant monetary or score-based incentive?

That's one of the central concepts behind Pathologic, a maddening Russian game that came out 5 years ago. It placed you in a system where there was essentially no way you could possibly thrive, and forced you to try and survive within it. And it managed to be gripping, to say the least. So I think your view of game/reward is a little oversimplistic. If you inherent the corruptions and failures within the system from the start, rather than opening with blind idealism, then there's still a game to be played and the things that go wrong are part of the rules.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:19 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rory, I can provide an example which hopefully clarifies my point.

The only MMO I've ever really played was Game NeverEnding. It was a fun game and all that, with goals, achievements, levels, toys and a monetary system. It was a peaceful, pleasant game with a sense of harmony.

At one point in the game one of the players found a serious bug which allowed him to become wealthy almost immediately without effort. He shared this money only with a few close friends, creating in effect an instant mafia. The game developers, perhaps thankful for the quick reporting of the bug, let him and his friends keep the money.

The result was anger and deep resentment all around. Loud heated conversations People quit the game because of this great injustice. Others refused gifts from the "rich" players saying that their money was "tainted" and so on.

Thats more what I mean. Real life is like this. People exploit "bugs" and they get to keep the money too while others grind away their entire life and get nothing. I dont think its simplistic to say that this can be demotivating. The things that go wrong in life aren't part of any rules.

That is, what if in the Russian game you mention, it suddenly became harder for you but not for anybody else. Is it still fun?
posted by vacapinta at 7:46 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am so friggin happy to know that the collective "we" at metafilter are so far beyond this.
posted by Xurando at 7:50 AM on March 19, 2010


Vacapinta: Okay, I see what you mean. You're talking not just about the rules of the system but the fact that other people are actively subverting the rules. That makes sense.

My worldview is that looking for those "bugs" is the real way to be living anyway. If you're playing a game with a rigid system, the only thing you can do creatively is work your way out of the game. I don't think there's a quick and easy way to translate that activity to the real world, but certainly similar from-an-angle approaches require more thought (and active thought rather than just relying on what somebody else tells you to do) and has the higher payoff for higher risk.

Are such rule subversions necessarily hostile? Can't you hack a game and spread the wealth? Perhaps that's the thing to glean from gaming — teach people to break rules, but to break them in a way that spreads happiness and makes everybody's life a little better. Like hacking rice to feed starving nations. In my mind at least there's a correlation.

In Pathologic there's nothing that can be described as "fun". I hated it but I played for 40 hours because the experience of the game was worth the frustrations. Which is why I think it's an interesting game to look at. It was one of the first games that taught me I'd play games not for pleasure but simply for the experience. Braid, which offers no prizes or accomplishment beyond beautiful music and beautiful gameplay, worked similarly on me.

And McGonigal, by the way, is one of the proponents of that maturer reward-beyond-pleasure philosophy of gaming. I submitted this talk in part just because her name shines out so much for me. She's not a good speaker but she has excellent ideas.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:14 AM on March 19, 2010


What does the circuit on the top of the page localroger linked to do?
posted by vostok at 8:18 AM on March 19, 2010


Makes a butterfly.
posted by edbles at 9:00 AM on March 19, 2010


vostok: it was a dual analog regulated power supply integrated circuit.

edbles: it's actually a moth :-)
posted by localroger at 9:54 AM on March 19, 2010


Yay for making educational gaming work slightly better. /speech
posted by Submiqent at 10:14 AM on March 19, 2010


Rory: I agree that games' ability for interaction and their creation of systems is unique and clearly allows them to track progress (and all sorts of other good things) that other media cannot. I think there are two issues here though; the first is that this description of a 'game' is so general as to not be a game any more, but simply an 'interactive system'. Secondly, other media clearly have their advantages as well - because they're so well-established, we don't think about them, but TV's immediate visual impact (just think of a good advert) and cinema's ability to convey a complex story is something that, as yet, games have not been able to mimic.

Jane's thesis seemed to be more that people play games because they're this perfect escape from the broken world, and that by playing these games, they gain 'skills' (or value things) such as collaboration, optimism, blissful productivity, and epic meaning.

I feel that Jane is describing some perfect game that I have never seen in my life. She talks about the fact that gamers never get frustrated, never get angry, or depressed - but that's just not true. It's not true that all the games we play are multiplayer or social, or they generate collaborative skills. It's not true that we genuinely feel productive when we play games - after I spent 20 hours playing Puzzle Quest, I just felt vaguely guilty (and irritated by the crap ending). And epic meaning? No.
posted by adrianhon at 10:24 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not to say that these things aren't desirable, but to suggest that this is the essence of what 500 million people have spent 10,000 hours on is just plain wrong; it'd be like saying that the billions of hours spent watching TV has all been on stuff as good as The Wire or Mad Men.
posted by adrianhon at 10:42 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


We're drowning in creative ideas, actually. What we lack is the will or ability to implement them.

The theme of every TEDtalk, no?
posted by Paddle to Sea at 11:31 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Education its even worse since grades are inherently qualitative.

I'd say education is better, because it explicitly quantifies one's proficiency at each class. Indeed, I could envision a student's transcript as a video game character sheet, with bars of varying length next to a list key attributes: Math, Biology, Business, History, etc... (rather than Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Wisdom, etc.) Take a Math course -- *ding* level up my Math Meter!

The real problem is that so many of the attributes that define a person are not formally taught, difficult to quantify, and/or sensitive social topics -- e.g., a person's leadership, their ability to make friends, their organization skills, their foresight, their drive, etc.
posted by LordSludge at 11:34 AM on March 19, 2010


Adrian:

I feel that Jane is describing some perfect game that I have never seen in my life. She talks about the fact that gamers never get frustrated, never get angry, or depressed - but that's just not true. It's not true that all the games we play are multiplayer or social, or they generate collaborative skills. It's not true that we genuinely feel productive when we play games - after I spent 20 hours playing Puzzle Quest, I just felt vaguely guilty (and irritated by the crap ending). And epic meaning? No.

Agreed entirely. I actually remember a few years I wanted to write to Jane about this issue specifically; at the time I decided against it.

The funny thing is that I simultaneously think games are the future of media and think all the people making games today are doing it wrong. They create these vast pits of rankings and points and essentially substitute that for actual meaning. That's why I think Urgent Evoke is destined for failure. We do instinctively feel reassured by stats and rewards, but we know at the same time those rewards are shallow and meaningless. My entire generation is in the middle of a struggle to shed their obsessions with these things.

What that means is that the people who will be drawn into McGonigal's work will almost certainly benefit; but most people are not prone to obsessing over points, and so will pass it by. And those people that are benefitting are doing so by taking advantage of a personal flaw. They get one thing out of it and lose another.

That's why I stopped gaming. It's also why I am incredibly frustrated with certain web sites, like Reddit and Hacker News and Tumblr, that treat user submissions like games that score points. It's devaluing. It encourages "hacking" in order to get ahead, which devalues some styles of content. (MetaFilter has this too, with favorites, but favorites are much slighter and more benign here than they are in systems where those points determine what gets read the most.)

In a way McGonigal is trying to create religion. Religion helps individuals, but I'd argue it helps them by oversimplifying certain aspects of life, and in the process devaluing certain other things. It's great in that it makes some people's lives better, but I think the real challenge is somehow to get people to accept that there are no shortcuts, and to accept and appreciate complex problems for what they are.

And what's funny is that McGonigal's older work manages this. There are no rewards to playing I Love Bees. Only the satisfaction of being a part of something interesting. Despite what Mark said, her work with 42entertainment on projects like I Love Bees was groundbreaking in some ways. It created a mystery that led people into deeper and deeper territories.

I don't like that she's gone back to using those old tropes of rewards and points. I was hoping she'd realized that we have to move past that. But I do think she has a good set of ideas, even if perhaps she won't be the person to perfectly realize them.
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:06 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


So is it good or bad that I check my Favorites count every 3 minutes?
posted by LordSludge at 12:40 PM on March 19, 2010


I do too. It's only bad if you start having temper tantrums when your number's sinking down.
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:43 PM on March 19, 2010


And you're still at square one without a proper reward system. You can't get the proper response without a good stimulus and even that doesn't gaurantee you'll see results. + 1 to Intelligence (however you would define that) doesn't mean anything if it doesn't at least correlate to expected behavior, and in most instances it doesn't.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:30 PM on March 19, 2010


Man, I'm late to the game, but this quote is just so appropriate right now:
Al Gore: "Not all missions can be solved with chess, Deep Blue. Someday you'll learn that."
posted by barnacles at 5:02 PM on March 19, 2010


Hate to self-link, but there's a conversation going on between me and Jane (and potentially you!) on my blog right now.
posted by adrianhon at 1:00 PM on March 20, 2010


« Older Move over Jedward. Ireland's most watched YouTube ...  |  Dutch officials have rejected ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments