Standing on the verge of an epic win: can gaming make the world a better place?

Paul Raven @ 18-03-2010

Jane McGonigal‘s recent TED talk is getting a lot of attention, and with good reason, because it’s a radical idea she’s pushing – radical in both senses of the word, in fact.

Here’s the thesis: computer games give us a sense of being able to achieve greatness, of being able to attempt awesome things and of that attempt being worth the effort, in a way we rarely feel in our meatspace lives. Why else would we spend so much time playing them? Just one gamer might spend thousands of hours a year chasing XP, completing quests and levelling up – but what is it that these people getting good at doing, exactly? And can we maybe encourage them to get good at things that can have an effect in the real world as well as in a virtual one?

McGonigal isn’t talking through her hat, either – she’s been working on this stuff for some years now. She was part of the team behind the Superstruct project, which was mentioned here a number of times (and in which peripatetic Futurismic columnist Sven Johnson took part, alongside Jamais Cascio and many other futurist types, professional or otherwise)… and there’s a new one in the works called Urgent Evoke. But let’s hear her tell it in her own words:

The easy angle for criticism is her incredible optimism (which, incidentally, she ascribes to a fundamental aspect of the gamer’s mindset), but given all the doom and gloom around at the moment, it’s a refreshing change. Instead of saying why it won’t work, maybe we should think about how it could?

And here’s a serendipitous supporting story [via SlashDot]: an Australian lecturer altered the structure of his university courses to reflect that of games – experience points, levelling up, and so on – and saw his students respond with far greater enthusiasm as a result. Now he’s suggesting that absorbing similar ideas into the workplace could engage greater engagement among employees from those notoriously (or allegedly, depending on your point of view) feckless Generation Ys and Millennials. What do you think?

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4 Responses to “Standing on the verge of an epic win: can gaming make the world a better place?”

  1. khannea says:

    I call ther emergence of a developmental field to be named ‘motivationism’ or ‘volitionacceleration’ or ‘funology’. In short – we need a science of making people do things because they are fun, rather than have people do things because if they don’t we’ll bankrupt/torture/imprison/exclude/humuliate them. Seriously.

  2. Sarah Ennals says:

    “Spoonfulsucrosity?”

  3. Stephen J. says:

    “…we need a science of making people do things because they are fun….”

    Isn’t the defining condition of “fun” something that nobody is making you do?

  4. Paul Raven says:

    I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that’s Brian Eno’s definition of culture…