Author: Jane McGonigal
Presentation: “Gaming Can Make a Better World”
Review By: Joseph Santoli
Date: 17 March 2013
Note to our class: I tried to pick a theory that was focused on gamification, but also accessible to our entire class. Do not let the word “game” throw you off. Think more about the traits gamers develop and how they act when they play games, not about how the game is played or what it involves.
If we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity, I believe that we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week by the end of the next decade. (we are currently at 3 billion hours a week)
Jane McGonigal seeks to tap into the large human resource of gamers. She believes that the way people play games breeds traits that are highly desirable in real-world situations. While playing games, people are self-motivated and are inspired to collaborate and cooperate, whereas in the real world, we often get depressed, cynical, or overwhelmed. These feelings do not exist in video games. Instead, online videogames, like World of Warcraft foster four very useful traits in gamers: Blissful Productivity, the desire to work hard to achieve your goals; Social Fabric, collaborating with others and working as a team; Urgent Optimism, the ability to act immediately to tackle an obstacle; and Epic Meaning, the enthusiasm of developing knowledge on a subject. These are desirable problem-solving traits, and we should play more games to cultivate these traits in ourselves. Gamers have these traits, all we need to figure out is how to utilize them. If we do, we’ll have access to an unprecedented human resource which grows in number and intensity every year.
McGonigal has created four “alternate reality” games, games that are set in real-world environments or use real-world problems, that she believes foster positive problem-solving skills. Each game encouraged and often required real-life collaboration and updates. Users post videos, blogs and other media to get their ideas out to other players. Each game was constructed from real-world problems and includes lesson plans for teachers. You might take a minute to browse through the website of each game.
World Without Oil: Players are provided with news reports of an oil shortage and must live their lives as if there was one. People posted blogs, videos, podcasts etc, and developed over 1500 stories and practical solutions to the problem.
Superstruct: Players imagine their role in the world in 2019. They then attempt to resolve a major global threat that would occur in 2019. Players then create superstructs, or large collaborative programs, to tackle the problems of the future.
Evoke: Players work in groups to solve problems in the year 2020. Players can access the game anywhere, on any device. This game was meant for younger audiences and emphasized the need for collaboration
I am very skeptical of McGonigal’s theories. Often I find gamification to be gimmicky and fake; an electronic version of flash cards or multiple-choiced tests (which includes a majority of Marc Prensky’s “work”). So proof, and repeated proof, of McGonigal’s theory was essential for me to even start to believe anything she argued. Fortunately, it seems that McGonigal has some budget when creating her games, and some design which actually looks intuitive and fun, like a game should be (you can see her three games at the end of the video). A closer inspection of her biography reveals that games aren’t just a “claim to fame,” but actually one endeavor of many. Her games also have a wide user-base which provides important data for support (1,700 gamers for her first design, over 8,000 for the second).
I wonder too what games she is talking about. World of Warcraft (WoW) may have a very collaborative atmosphere, and may foster working relationships between people, but online games like Call of Duty, Halo, and League of Legends often breed competitiveness and verbal violence (not to mention occasional sexism, perhaps a problem in most/all media) – ask anyone who plays these games. Do these games breed Blissful Productivity or collaboration? I don’t think so. I believe McGonigal’s argument is applicable only to MMORPGs like WoW or Guild Wars. People work in teams in other types of games (shooters etc), but often see the opposing team as enemies, which makes for unproductive competition (one may argue against me in favor of cutthroat capitalism perhaps). The difference between these genres is that MMORPGs are often player vs environment, whereas games like Call of Duty emphasize player vs player. The alternate reality games that McGonigal creates are focused on player vs environment; you may disagree with someone else in devising a plan to save the world, but the purpose of the game is not to defeat those who oppose you, but to save everyone.
There are ten million people out there (the current subscription rate for WoW) that are dedicated workers. But are they dedicated to work, or are they dedicated to fantasy? To get gamers to work in the real world, is our best tactic attempting to make the real world into a fantasy for them, so they can believe all the same rules apply? I think the main problem here is getting gamers to make the connections that McGonigal has made, and applying the traits they have fostered into real-world situations. Gamers are not aware of the traits they are developing, and may not be able to identify and solve real-world problems the way they identify and solve problems in online games. The environment is entirely different. Perhaps we don’t need gamers to identify their traits; if they are inherent, then they will arise in real-world situations on their own.
It seems to me that McGonigal is blurring the line between gaming worlds and the real world, and I wonder if this is healthy. If the games McGonigal creates are not close enough to the rules of reality, but advertises itself as a reality simulation, players may be led to believe that certain things are possible when they are not, and they may take risks that would have been successful in the game but not in real life. I remain skeptical until I see news headlines like “Prolific WoW Gamer becomes CEO” or “Studies show Game training significantly increases leadership skills.” Until then, games are games, and nothing more.
Not exactly as scholarly as McGonigal, but nonetheless interesting and relevant. Cracked: 5 Ways Video Games are Saving Mankind
I enjoyed this presentation, though I think your lecture might have turned into a discussion before everyone had a handle on what the main points in McGonigal’s argument were.
I would be interested in hearing more of your thoughts on one aspect of McGonigal’s rhetoric. I’m thinking of how she tries to re-appropriate certain aspects of “gamer” (ugh) nomenclature. An example is that moment in the video in which she explains to the audience what an “epic win” is. Personally, I find this part of her argument a bit jarring, and I’m not sure the language of the typical online gamespace (a space fraught with misogyny and racism) is a thing that should be celebrated and reproduced unconditionally. You touch on this in your sentence about CoD, Halo, etc., but I think this kind of thing is pervasive in MMORPGs, as well. Maybe the problem isn’t in McGonigal’s lack of distinction between different videogame genres; maybe it has to do with her rhetoric. Sometimes it feels like McGonigal is too defensive of videogame culture to acknowledge its defects, and I wonder if this weakens the effectiveness of her argument or makes it harder for the unconverted to take her seirously. I might be blowing smoke here, and I will say that McGonigal is pretty good at making her perspective on games pretty accessible. I like how you point this out in your review.
Also, does your concluding sentence genuinely represent your beliefs on this subject?: “Until then, games are games, and nothing more.” This isn’t the sense I got from your presentation in class.
Some Grammatical/Mechanical stuff:
This sentence needs to be two sentences and could probably do with some rephrasing: “Gamers have these traits, all we need to figure out is how to utilize them.”
You don’t need the comma in this sentence: “I think the main problem here is getting gamers to make the connections that McGonigal has made, and applying the traits they have fostered into real-world situations.”
Unwanted comma in this one as well: (It’s also a bit word. Might want to break it up): “Gamers are not aware of the traits they are developing, and may not be able to identify and solve real-world problems the way they identify and solve problems in online games.”
Yeah, sorry. That was my bad. I think the whole “If we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity, I believe that we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week by the end of the next decade” thing just set me off. As Alex said, it was McGonigal’s rhetoric that was the problem. And I agree, she seems defensive of gaming culture, so she goes for the sweeping generaliztion, shock-and-awe kind of thing to sell her points. But… really. Who needs to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week of the next decade? Everyone, or just people who can afford it? And how is it going solve global conflict? Are the Janjaweed going to play WoW and at the end of the day be like “Hmm… this has taught me that nonviolence is the way to righteousness”?
But I digress. I appreciate the definitions/examples of MMORPGs and shooter games, and by the way, I think your point that McGonigal’s argument applies to MMORPGs but not shooter games is very valid.
I would’ve liked to see McGonigal’s games being played. I know that her games are closed now, but it was hard for me to visualize how the games work. I think maybe a YouTube video of the games would’ve helped, but you couldn’t find one, so that’s alright.
I also would like to see McGonigal in action. You said if we listened to her complete argument, it would make a lot more sense. So if you’re going to polish this review, I would love it if you could include a few more quotes from McGonigal (something less jarring than the whole solving global conflict thing) and maybe embed a video of her lecture.
Other than that–awesome.