Inspiration from Video Games

Generally when I offer up my musings on this blog, I discuss my recent reading choices related to media and education. I find myself unsure of where to start this post, mostly because I found both of the articles I read this week informative but not particularly thought provoking. I find games an incredibly intriguing area of study. I am almost in awe of some of the studies that are coming out and what they mean for our understanding of how the human mind works, how we are motivated, and how we may be able to change things for the positive in the future. Online interaction, including social gaming, is changing the way we communicate, for better or for worse, and I think my chosen articles provide at least a little glimpse into some of these changes.

However, I found myself significantly more intrigued by two talks – both involving social gaming – that have been filmed and posted on the TED site this year. The first was presented by Jesse Schell. In the talk, entitled When Games Invade Real Life, Schell discusses the online gaming ‘phenomenon’ that has sprung up around online communities. Schell is not a non-gamer with aspirations of abolishing games yet he does present a number of valid concerns about the current state of video games, particularly social games. His primary concerns are about where the money generated by these games is going and how, by turning things into a game, companies and corporations are influencing the ways we think. While his view is distinctly skewed towards corporate influence, overall, this may not be all bad, as Schell points out, some games promise a percentage of their profits will go to charity.  I think that this talk is a great reminder that, much like we vote with our dollars every time we make a purchase, we need to remember that we also vote with our time and our willingness to endure advertising, brand placement, etc.

The second presentation, Gaming Can Make a Better World by Jane McGonigal, was significantly more upbeat. The world population currently plays about 3 billion hours of video games per week. McGonigal’s theory is that, if we can raise this to 21 billion hours of constructive play, we could solve a large number of the worlds ‘big’ problems like energy, hunger and global warming. She basis this on an older study done that showed it takes approximately 10,000 hours to become a virtuoso at something. Because gamers (in areas where gaming is available/popular/etc.) spend about 10,000 hours playing video games by the time they graduate from high school she figures they have become virtuosos in urgent optimism, extreme motivation, development of social fabric, productivity (happy work) and epic meaning. The goal, is to bring these things from the virtual world to the real world and in doing so help provide, in our day to day lives, the things we are missing that draw us to games in the first place. McGonigal feels that games play an incredibly important role in our lives and we would benefit from both studying and utilizing them in the future.

I think social games are just one more way in which we need to rethink human interaction. In many ways they are no different from blogs or Facebook updates. Like other technologies, they are likely to be positive when consumed in moderation and as a supplement to other methods of communication. They should not replace a neighborhood soccer game, but they also take away the limits of physical location – The potential neighborhood has become limited only by technological access.

Here are the two talks as well as a couple of other links I thought folks might be interested in:
When Games Invade Real Life
Gaming Can Make a Better World
Making Games for Girls
Play is More Than Fun, It’s Vital
David Perry of Videogames