Wednesday, August 31, 2011

To survive we need to structure life as games, no really we do

You can sit and bemoan how much time kids, and adults, spend playing games online or you can start taking a close look at why and what it actually does to them. That’s my theory anyway even if I have to fight hard to get my own daughter to close the lid on her Nintendo DS so we can have dinner in peace.

There are many reasons for why people spend a lot of time gaming online and one of them is that game worlds are better than real life. For one, in the game world winning and succeeding is entirely possible and the feeling you get when you have an “epic win” is pretty incredible. In the game world you have every chance of succeeding and you know it.

Unlike a lot of the time in real life, in the game world the challenges you face are always matched to your level. Your mission is on the verge of what you’re capable of so it stretches you but you can always achieve it if you try hard, and as you try hard you get to learn and develop more skills. In the game world it’s not possible to feel like you can’t achieve because it’s set up to get you to the next level even if it seems hard at first. If you at first don’t succeed you change tactic and you try again until you do succeed.

Online game communities are collaborative problem solving environments that make massive resources available to game players. People get together with common goals and they’re prepared to help each other to achieve those goals. In these communities there are always characters and people who are ready to help you with your mission, and they’re ready to work with you to do so.

In the game world you never sit around with nothing to do, there’s always something that needs doing. No one is unemployed in a game. Everyone has a function or a task to complete. It’s impossible to feel useless.

In the game world you have a sense of purpose. There’s a story behind why you’re there and why you’re doing the mission. You have a clear sense of why you’re running around killing monsters or hoarding crystals. You’re working towards a goal and you know why you’re doing it at all times. The rules don’t change suddenly or if someone else is in a bad mood. You don’t have a new boss who comes in and changes your direction. Your purpose is clearly defined and you know what’s expected of you.

In the game world you get constant positive feedback. You get +1 strength. You get +1 intelligence. You level up.

In the game world you get the satisfaction of being on the verge of an epic win all the time.

But it’s not all about fun and games. The game world actually teaches us some really important lessons about how we can help solve the problems of this world. It shows us that humans are capable of cooperating with a common goal in mind and that there’s a lot of people out there that are really good at problem solving together.

Not only that but your average online gamer is a person driven by optimism and extreme motivation. The average online gamer has the desire to act immediately to tackle a problem and it’s combined with the belief that there’s a reasonable chance of success all the time.

Your average online gamer is part of a large social fabric. We like people better when we’ve played a game with them even if we’ve been beaten by them. It takes trust to play with someone. We trust that they will spend time to play with us, that they will follow the same rules and that they share the same goal, and that they will play the game until it’s over. As a result we build stronger relationships.

In the game world we experience blissful productivity. We play games because we’re happier working hard than just sitting around relaxing. We’re optimized as human beings working hard if we’re given the right work. Obviously problem solving rates high for satisfaction or there wouldn’t be so many people playing games to entertain themselves.

In the game world you’re attached to awe inspiring missions and you make a difference. You’re out there saving the world and being a hero. Gamers are self-motivated individuals full of hope who like to cooperate with others and who believe that they have the capacity to change the (game) world.

People are leaving the real world for virtual worlds. It’s a mass exodus. Gamers can achieve more in the virtual world and have greater satisfaction. They can have stronger social relationships. They get more positive feedback. It stands to reason that we need to make the real world work more like the virtual world to tempt people back into it. We need to create a better world out here and we need to get people involved.

Not only that, we have all these powerful problem solvers already out there who are really skilled in problem solving so why aren’t we making use of them? These people who already have hours and hours of experience in problem solving and they love doing it.

Imagine if children were taught like this, if education was problem solving and involvement. What would they learn? Would they become better human beings? Would they get better at solving problems and cooperating with others? Would they feel better about themselves? Would they grow up less depressed and anxious?

It’s annoying to admit, because I’m no gamer, but I think they’re onto something and we need to learn from what’s happening here. It may be the only way we can save the world in the end. Imagine if you gave people access to a game in which they had to solve world problems with allocated resources. What would happen? Could we actually get some really good solutions to how to stop famine in Africa or to other problems that could be solved because the resources are actually available to do so? I don’t know. What do you think? Don’t you think it’s worth considering? I’m just saying.


  1. This is so profound and insightful
    I think there's a lot of truth in what you say, I just never realised.
    I have never played an online game, its all a foreign country to me but yes, when you put it like that it does make sense and I do see the potential out there...

    You have left me wondering about the future and how we may harness this human force for good.

    PS read Ender's Game, you may find it interesting

  2. I like the idea of using something that people enjoy and use it in a way that's actually going to change the world. We're fast to criticize things like gaming but I know with my own daughter who has learning difficulties that just having a Nintendo DS has helped her learn to read and improved her problem solving skills and this through what I classify as silly Pokemon games.

    Thanks for the reading tip! I'll be sure to look out for it and put it on my reading list,


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