In Part 3 of “Reality is Broken” Jane Mcgonigal describes games in which large groups of people are working collaboratively to solve some of the world’s largest problems. Another four fixes are outlined.
11. Build a sustainable engagement economy The ordinary work of getting on with society requires the existence of a large number of collaborative organizations, most of which rely on the services of volunteers. Competition for person hours is fierce. There are a lot of organizations chasing after volunteers. People are busy though and requests for assistance are not welcome. Playing the “guilt” or “duty” cards is ineffective. How, then, to get the work done?
Compensation? It’s just not effective for encouraging people to sustain work for which pay is not normally expected. Once pay is given that becomes the norm; it’s then expected as a matter of course, regardless of how appropriate this may be. The fact remains that there are many tasks in society for which pay is not normally given—and furthermore that’s probably the way it should be. The challenge, then, is to find ways to get people to participate anyway.
So, how about introducing elements of gaming into the picture?
Here’s an example: The Newspaper “The Guardian” obtained access to hundreds of thousands of filed expense claims and found itself unable to make sense of them in the time required. As a response it devised a gamified, crowd-sourced procedure in which citizens were able to assist in the required analysis. A significant number of irregularities were uncovered.
Consider Wikipedia as a participatory game: It is successful for several reasons: It has a Good (a) game world; Large and many sided (b) game mechanics system (c) Feedback and rewards (d) game community (e) Interaction and conflict resolution. Due, possibly, to all of this the Wikipedia project has been massively successful. It is enormous in size and, as time goes on, the credibility of its information is growing.
Now consider the online game World of Warcraft (WOW), an online game played—often obsessively—by millions of players. Potentially Wikipedia could have been built by the WOW community in 3-4 days if the players had been able to direct their energies to it.
After all, if gamers are so anxious to be engaged them why not channel their efforts to real-world projects?
There are already some examples of this, albeit at a smaller scale. For example, in the project Folding at Home, the participants share the effort required to investigate complex protein shapes.
One wonders though, about the validity of this line of reasoning. After all, much of the work that is required in this world does not lend itself to a gamified environment. Take the case of elected school (or health care) boards. To them is entrusted the proper governance of a whole school district. How acceptable would it be to add game elements to the processes of setting school priorities, deciding which schools to close and debating educational policy? Somehow the word ‘game’ just plain trivializes a deadly serious pursuit.
Additionally, it seems trite to say that WOW gamers could have built Wikipedia. Take a glance through several articles. It is not hard to see the care and dedication with which most of the articles were prepared. Contrary to what some think, the articles are of generally good quality—and getting better. I’d be lost without it. To just assume that a group of people, with nothing more in common than a love of online entertainment, would actively take an interest in this is to seriously misunderstand humanity. We all have our interests. For many, yes, it is in working at intellectual/professional pursuits for the betterment of society. For many, though, just everyday survival is about all that can be managed and a welcome, relaxing release of frustration might be all that separates them from despair.
I brought son#1 to work at 7am, after folding a load of laundry and washing a load of towels. Went to work where, in addition to working on numerical analysis of this year’s various performance indicators I helped untangle a developing HR situation, responded to several public requests for information, visited the Registrar’s office for forms for son#2, did a job for OH during lunch, met with several colleagues, picked up sons 1 and 2 after work, prepared supper and, of course, cleaned up afterwards then folded that load of wash from earlier this morning. I figure I’ve done my share. I have nothing to give now and am just writing a bit; my therapy. Heading out to pick up OH from work at 10. Save the world? Not today.
12. More epic wins. Our world is facing many large-scale issues including: hunger, climate change, economic crises. These require equally large scale action for which mission support is vital. Social participation games such as Groundcrew and Lost Joules are examples of how this can be done. Assuming that people are willing to put the time in, some of this just might work. But who does the work?
13. Ten Thousand Hours Collaborating Perhaps you’ve read “Outliers?” In that bestselling work, author Malcolm Gladwell did a lot to make popular the idea, based in large part on work by Anders Ericsson, that mastery of skills generally comes after significant (ten-thousand hours is a popular way of saying it) practice. Young gamers spend huge periods of time; certainly enough to qualify most them as masters at…something besides twiddling thumbs and fingers on game controllers. Because modern games are collaborative it’s to be expected that today’s young people can be especially good collaborators, likely having spent those magical 10,000 hours at it by age 21.
Of course, the skeptic can’t help but present a few pertinent items:
- Is it valid to state that “collaboration” is a skill in the same sense as is, say, playing a musical instrument or playing a particular position in hockey?
- Data set of one: I suck at softball and I am pretty sure I have spent my 10,000 hours at it. At least it feels like it. Just kidding—sort of.
Besides the time spent by the participants, today’s games offer an excellent platform for collaboration. Consider Little Big Planet where players join with up to four others and get to explore the world, virtually, together.
Still, one wonders, if this will translate. Just because you play well with others in a gaming environment it’s not necessarily the case they you’ll play nicely elsewhere, is it?
“Emergensight” is the ability to thrive in a chaotic environment. Effective collaborators apparently have this in droves, adept, as they are, in complex fast-moving environments. That said, as far as I can see there’s no telling whether there is a causal connection and, if so, in which directions(s) the effect works.
Much of rationale behind what’s stated in the book is based on the findings of Positive Psychology. Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson, for example, in “Character Strengths and Virtues” delineated 24 categories down into six categories:
- Wisdom & knowledge
Several well-designed games including Lost Ring take advantage of this by building in characters that exemplify each of these categories.
I have to admit to having something of an overriding bias toward what I shall term “Classical Psychology”—you know, the one most people refer to when they drop the term “Psychology.” Think about it for a minute: classical psychology is somewhat “negative” in nature, tending to dwell on and study those traits that are generally unwanted or the absence of desired characteristics. By contrast, Positive Psychology strives to do more-or-less the opposite; to study strengths and desired characteristics.
At this stage the field of Positive Psychology is not developed well enough to satisfy the huge skeptic that lurks within me. Yes, it’s true that many bright, skilled people have devoted significant amounts of time researching the field; fleshing it out. Classical psychology, though, for all its flaws has at least a 100 year head start. As such it’s easier to find platforms on which people more-or-less agree, all wrapped up there in DSM4 and DSM5. Positive psychology is not there just yet.
Please do not misunderstand; this not, in any way, an attempt to slight that emerging field. It is, though, an effort to remind…myself, if nobody else…that positive psychology has a way to go before it can produce so trustworthy a document as the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual. Yes, THEY are pretty controversial documents; it’s been fun following the proceedings that led to DS5. Here’s a fascinating glimpse into that. It’s just that we know or at least can access the debate and data that left us with them. As for Positive Psychology—while there’s no doubt (at least in my mind) that it contains quite a large amount of value, I’m pretty much equally sure that it’s still in need of lot more refinement.
14. Massively Multiplayer foresight is something that happens when a sufficient number of good people turn their attention to a problem.
World Without Oil was a massive online thought experiment/game in which contributors supplied “what if’s” as they considered our future in the absence of easily available petro-energy. The game was played by around 9000 individuals over 32 days, representing 32 weeks of progress through that scenario. It was found that, at first, many of the contributions were rather dark in nature but as the game wore on, the players shifted and instead began supplying potential solutions to the problems that had been uncovered.
They became SEHI’s (Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals); players on a more global playing-out of gaming environments.
The term Superstruct was coined to represent the act of extending on existing structures, not to enlarge them, but instead to take them off in new directions. This requites individuals who are empowered to collaborate at more extreme scales. The Institute for the Future produces annual ten-year forecasts. The first superstruct was built to help produce one of its ten-year forecasts. Players were expected to move in new, novel directions while still having a clear goal in mind. Players were tasked with tackling these five “super threats;”
- Disease and other threats to health
- Moving to sustainable energy
- Security, both personal and organizational
- The need for government dedicated to a sustainable way of life
Overall, approximately 9000 participants contributed ideas and information in an effort to “Vanquish” these threats for the year 2019.
From this, other superstructs have emerged including ones dedicated to:
- Producing wearable energy producing devices.
- Providing people with low cost access to seeds
- Organizing humanitarian efforts in places difficult to service.
Evoke, a new game to assist young people in mobilizing to positively changing the world, was designed to be played on just about any type of electronic equipment, including low-powered, low-bandwidth devices that are often all that are available in third-world regions. Early results seem to be encouraging. Visit the site–it’s intriguing, to say the least.
Reading “Reality is Broken” was a stimulating exploration of how the things that make games great could potentially also make our world a better place. It was not just thoughtful; it was well-written. The author is a gifted storyteller who skillfully weaves interesting, relevant exemplars all through the main ideas. What’s more the ideas and the terms are fresh—at least to me; a breath of clean air wafting through my poor dusty mind.
But, yes, I’m tired. After making my way through this worthwhile read I’m still left somewhat unmoved. Yes, games are fun, powerful and most importantly effective in getting people to act.
But they’re still games.
And life is not always a game.
Not to me, at least.
Think about it—there’s a line between “applying principles of psychology to influence others to perform necessary tasks efficiently and well” and “manipulating others so that they do what you want them to do.” The most important point of distinction between the two is the issue of deciding just what it is we want others to do. We don’t need to just get clever and sly at manipulating people.
In developed countries governments, of all types, rely on the messy process of advanced democracy to help with the decision making: committees, public debates, white papers—that sort of thing. Larger corporations utilize much of this but usually have to layer in an added focus on profits. Individuals and smaller enterprises? Well, they essentially follow their own rules. Sometimes the actions are informed by a well-developed structure of ethics and responsibility. Sometimes not.
The thing, then, is to keep a close eye on what we do. “Making a game out of it” can be a very positive thing for all who decide to participate but the experience must be appropriate. Care should be taken that choice is always available. Game dynamics are certainly powerful for many, but not all. They’re also insidious. It could easily become the case that the game becomes the thing and attention comes off that which the game was supposed to accomplish.
I’ll freely admit to perhaps being too old for much of this. Games don’t have the effect on me that they have on today’s typical electronic gamer (who’s more likely a 20 or 30 something. I’m nowhere there.) I’ll also admit to preferring other things (music, reading, writing, being a generally non-gaming geek yes that’s possible) to games—and that’s just a personal thing. But, I don’t dislike games. I play all types in moderation. I do other things too.
My teaching specialties are mathematics and physics. They’re generally hard to teach and hard to learn. Please don’t believe the total bullshit from those who would like you to believe they are easy. If, after all, they were easy then there’d be no need for people like me. Those who insist otherwise are either just “touching the tops of the trees” or are outright lying to you. Come on!
Hard yes, but I don’t HAVE to use game-based tools and strategies to build learning activities to get them done. I don’t have to, but sometimes I will. Maybe even ‘frequently.’ Like all educators I have a full toolbox. Just as you don’t just use a hammer to build a house, you also don’t try to teach with just one method. You bring in the right tool to do the job. Sometimes you even get to choose between several.
And at those times, learning situations infused with game-based elements might be just the thing.