Fair warning, this might be something of a nerdy post.
There was a day when the point of video games was to escape the realities of our world and immerse ourselves in fantasy. To some extent this is still true but in the last couple of years, the real world and the digital world have begun to collide in some pretty surprising ways.
Recently, I’ve run across two videos that have illuminated my understanding of the relationship between the physical world and digital world. The first is a video of a speech given by Jesse Schnell, a video game designer and professor of game design and Carnegie Mellon University. You can watch the video at the link below.
He covers a lot of things in his 20 minute talk but here are the important ideas that I would pull out
1) He outlines the importance of simple interactive games like facebook games. They are huge and generating unbelievable amounts of money. For example. Their are more Farmville (a simple game on Facebook) players than there are total number of people with Twitter accounts. What’s more, Famville is generating millions of dollars a month. That whole discussion blew me away.
2) He argues that the popularity of these types of games is due to the fact that they are connecting people back to reality. It’s not just that Farmville is fun to play, but now you can see how good all of your friends are and play against them. He goes into this in more detail in the video but the basic idea is that our lives have been so disconnected from reality that we are now searching for any bit of connection to reality that we can, no matter how simplistic or gimmicky that it might be. Here’s where I think he hits the nail on the head. This is a compelling argument to me. His last main point is more troubblesome to me.
3) Combined with the fact that technology is becoming so cheap and even disposable (he argues that everything from our cereal box to our toothbrush will have a computer, screen and internet connectivity within the near future) he argues that game designers have the possibility to design games and point systems that help us be better people with real time feedback and rewards.
So, let’s give him the benefit of a doubt. Never mind that he never determines what the definition of “better person” is. Never mind the fact that he doesn’t discuss the unbelievable possibilities for abuse with what he is suggesting. Let’s say he’s right, gaming can help us be better people. So what does that actually look like?
Here’s where the next video comes in. It’s from the TED website (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design) and features Jane McGonical. She too is a game designer. She talks some about the history of Games, the psychology of going on adventures within games, the fact that we are better people (more skilled but also more altruistic) in games than we are in real life, but also how gaming might have a real impact on making the world a better place
She ends her talk by talking about 3 different games that she’s worked on that influence how people think about and act toward the environment, to a game where when you complete the game you will actually have a certification from the World Bank to do development work. That game is called Evoke. Her perspective really gives some more flesh to the seed of an idea that Jesse Schell starts.
Overall, I’m still skeptical of this all. I find Schnells insight that we are disconnected from reality and are trying to fill an innate hunger very important. I just don’t buy the idea that we then need design games that help us feel more connected to reality. I think we just actually need to quit playing the games and get more connected with reality! While I admire both of their hopes for altruistic gaming, the idea of thoughtful rejection is never entertained. To resist the pull or progression of the technological worldview is never questioned.
I guess we shall see what the future brings.