Deep Thoughts, Serious games

Virtual Worlds Prove That Life Is Too Real

There’s a certain logic to this, or maybe it’s just a reminder, one of those “everything I needed to know I learned in Kindergarten” kind of things: games are fun, life is boring, if only life was more like a game.

And there’s a logic to it. And it’s what Edward Castranova pointed out, first in his groundbreaking work Synthetic Worlds, and then in his extended job application “Exodus to the Virtual World”. In the first book, he argued that games are fun in a way that has VALUE, showing us that the economic activity in virtual worlds proved that they weren’t just time killers and diversions, but places where you could ascribe dollar figures.

In his second book, Castranova took the next step, saying that the number of people spending time in virtual worlds was increasing, it was doing so because the real world is so dull and meaningless and then argued that either we let the exodus happen or we try to make real life more, well, virtual. At one point, he even proposed that having your driver’s license renewed should be like a quest in Warcraft or something - not like it isn’t already, in fact it’s the ultimate Boss I figure and there’s no magic sword that can slay that beast.

See, the idea is good. Why CAN’T life be more fun, have more game elements? The Institute of the Future thinks so, and are starting up a massive multiplayer game to project the future. (I guess that’s what they do after all). And partly as set-up to Superstruct, Jane McGonigal gives us this presentation:

User Experience of Reality
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: avant jane)

So, here’s the thing: I like games. Not like - love games. I made games as a kid - complicated things with lots of cards and byzantine rules. And sure, I played Solitaire at work even once or twice and sat in on some brainstorming games at corporate retreats or whatever.

So I love games, and I think they’re far more effective in training and education than many other modalities of learning. But Castranova and others take it a step further, using game mechanics as the underpinning for future models of POLICY, and there’s something I find vaguely threatening about that. Castranova uses the idea of leveling, for example, and quests, as a proposed mechanic for how governments and companies are run (set up, of course, with the wise assistance of professors of this sort of thing).

Now - I don’t have some sort of idea that the way companies are generally set up NOW is all that effective - we’re in a transformative time, and I think that the nature of work and the corporation and perhaps governments are changing. But what I’ve learned in virtual worlds isn’t just that they’re fun, as McGonigal points out - but also that they’re emotional. It’s a simplified metaphor, but I see in virtual worlds the potential rise of the feminine corporation, not because the mechanics of playing games facilitates a sort of programmed path with rewards and obstacles and guilds or whatever, but because in the complex interplay of imaginative space and our personal explorations of identity, there’s a feeling, a magic, and a sense of collaborative serendipity that arises.

I’m all for games. But I’m cautious about the manipulation of game mechanics in order to DRIVE emotion (outside of game SPACE, I mean in work space), or on the idea that we can code productivity. Either we’ll become pavlovian, or games will stop being fun.


speak up

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site.

Subscribe to these comments.

*Required Fields

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.