Imagine 1,800 people collaborating in an alternate-reality game for 32 days. This was the world without oil game played in 2007.
You have this massive multiplayer collaboration through gaming that is also a competition to build a reality that looks more like our favorite game - to become more engaged with the real world.
IFTF examines the past to understand where the current stories came from and take a peak into the future. They call it foresight to insight to action. Some highlights of McGonigal's talk are very applicable to where digital interaction is moving towards today.
At the earliest recording, Herodotus wrote about the invention of gaming 3,000 years ago. It was fundamentally in response to social crisis. In Libya, which is the region he writes about, they were having a famine. Dice games were played on alternate days because people were so immersed in games that they would forget to eat on those days.
This, according to Herodotus, went on for 18 years in society - eating and playing games on alternate days. Some say that this story is apocryphal. His philosophy though was that we can find moral truths in the concrete data of experience. And there are four moral truths in his recounting:
- immersion - it's about immersing yourself in an interactive system and your engagement with other people playing games; that is the core of what would enable people to not eat. Have you ever experienced being in love to a point that you forgot to eat to be with the subject of your affection?
- constructive response to a social problem - we could create games that try to address a social problem.
- invented to alleviate suffering - this is a possibility. Game designers talk about games being the ultimate happiness engine. When we are playing a game, we are not suffering. This leads me to think about the whole conversation around ego and forgetting oneself during immersion.
- feed a kind of hunger - we have a hunger for engagement. Economist Edward Castranova observed that "we are witnessing what amounts to no less than a global exodus to virtual worlds and other online gaming environments." Just to give you a scope - the average gamer spends 24 hours a week in this multiplayer reality. It's a 50-billion dollar industry.
In societies where we're not trying to survive, we have a massive cognitive surplus says Clay Shirky in an essay on the topic. An excerpt:
The early phase for taking advantage of this cognitive surplus, the phase I think we're still in, is all special cases. The physics of participation is much more like the physics of weather than it is like the physics of gravity. We know all the forces that combine to make these kinds of things work: there's an interesting community over here, there's an interesting sharing model over there, those people are collaborating on open source software. But despite knowing the inputs, we can't predict the outputs yet because there's so much complexity.
The way you explore complex ecosystems is you just try lots and lots and lots of things, and you hope that everybody who fails fails informatively so that you can at least find a skull on a pikestaff near where you're going. That's the phase we're in now.
Read on for illustrations. Participation is better than being passive - in the long haul it promotes engagement and helps build a new body of knowledge. What would happen if we could map all of the pieces of information each one of us has about locations, issues, businesses, problems/solutions in one place?
Note to marketers and communicators: have you found all the places where readers, customers, employees have been locked out without a way to add, comment, build on, modify to customize your experience?
McGonigal hits on an observation I made several years ago. Teenagers are known to play pranks, alas sometimes not figuring out that destruction of property and nuisance are not so much fun for those they are inflicted upon. They do that because we're not so good at not having to survive the moment when they will have their rite of passage.
In tribes, you had to measure yourself against some lofty feat to become an accepted member of society. You had to show you could survive. They prepared for that. What happens when that challenge is taken away?
There are other essential elements of gaming in addition to measuring yourself against odds - knowing where you stand, getting other players to help, being recognized by the community.
An example of a game-like experience is the dashboard of your hybrid car - it gives you information on how you score against your goal of saving gas/mile. Another example is a game called chore wars where you get experience points for chores you do around the house. There are also sensor-based exercise games like Nike plus. How about a social network for your dog embedded in his collar tag?
To go back to where we started this conversation, if you go to The World Without Oil site, you will be able to view the alternative reality game archives, including lesson plans for teachers.
Would you like to play a game? Go ahead and log onto The Lost Ring.
This is a brand new alternate-reality game Jane McGonigal built in occasion of the Olympics. Nobody knows how to play it yet so if you've ever dreamed of being an Olympic champion - this is your chance. The idea is to transform the Olympic Games from a passive to an active/participatory experience. I will add - from a closed to an open system.
Are you in?