Can the lessons we learn from gamers help us to solve world problems?
Jane McGonigal's talk 'Gaming Can Make a Better World' describes the positive attitudes gamers take when they are engaged in play and explains how these attitudes are the ones we should adopt when tackling world problems such as poverty, climate change and fuel shortage. Her ambitious projects to fix this 'broken' reality involve simulating world problems in online games and inviting dedicated online gamers to play, with actual accredited qualifications as the reward for success. Gamers are dedicated, ambitious and assume that they can succeed. However, it is fallacious to assume that all gaming results in 'epic wins'.
You can also add to the debate by leaving a comment at the end of the page.
Specialist-level independent study and self-learning skills.
The current generation of young people in the U.S. play video games on average for 10,000 hours altogether. According to Malcolm Gladwel's 'Outliers', 10,000 hours is the optimum amount of dedicated time necessary when young to grow up to become an expert at a subject. It is also almost the amount of time spent at school by a young person with a perfect attendance record ie. A complete education. This is completely self-motivated independent study – something that takes an incredible amount of willpower, even when studying a subject you enjoy. This kind of willpower, dedication and specialisation, possessed by an entire generation, could be applied to solving a world problem.
Spending more time on games doesn't necessarily mean getting better at them. Unlike studying, which is heavily intensive, much of the time spent on games is very repetitive building up of resources and slow, gradual improvement – the equivalent of very unskilled labour. Time can also very easily be lost and made useless if progress is not saved before a large mistake is made. This is not necessarily negative – the object of a game is not always to learn how to play the game better, it is primarily to win the game and secondly to be playing a computer game, because the act itself is so enjoyable on a primal level. For instance, if the solution to a game is in a walkthrough and a gamer is near the end and stuck, they will probably opt to read the walkthrough after a while rather than work it out for themselves.
Gamers enjoy thinking on an 'epic' scale. They want to be the main character of the entire world. They want to save that world. They expect to have the means and authority to do so, and to do it now. McGonigal talks of 'awe-inspiring missions and planetary scale stories'. This attitude is just the attitude we need if we are going to save the actual world – a self-assurance that we can do so, can literally do so in a series of practical steps and it will happen in our own lifetime.
This is quite often only the case near the end of a game, after a period of boredom waiting for the plot to get interesting. In online games, it only happens in instances that are only available to the highest powered and most experienced players. New players are treated like new recruits, given unsatisfying tasks such as killing rats in the basement. They have to play for a long time before they are given rewarding tasks.
Many games such as Tetris have no epic storyline at all but are still massively popular due to their simplicity and replyability.
Gamers who play a wide variety of games quickly learn that game storylines are often formulaic, have plot holes and eventually lose their impact altogether due to lack of plausibility. It is difficult to be convinced that you are on an URGENT quest to save the world when you have spent a month levelling up and nothing at all has happened to the world in the meantime, or when you've played Fire Emblem 8 and discovered it has *exactly* the same plot as the other seven games.
Gaming is hard work. Gamers are 'happier working hard than when relaxing' – they voluntarily and cheerfully opt to do hard, meaningful work, something that many full time workers in important positions fail to master, instead spending their lives looking forward to weekends and holidays. Gamers will play games on weekends and holidays, at unsociable hours, deliberately miss sleep and meals over games if the game requires it. This is because the task is genuinely important to them. Solving world problems such as hunger and climate change is a task that is actually that important – we need to be able to get into the mindset where we can treat it as such, be ready to work on it for the sake of working on it.
Gamers believe that there is always a chance of success and that there is something immediately that they personally can do – or even have to do urgently – in order to achieve success.
Optimism only lasts as long as the gamer is successful. A gamer who is 'stuck' for any length of time will often feel increasingly depressed and desperate and may eventually resort to looking at walkthroughs, asking higher level players to 'boost' them through instances or even cheating.
Completing a game can sometimes cause even more distress – after the initial high caused by ultimate victory, they realise that there is nothing else that can be done in the game, the ending may feel anticlimactic, they want to continue playing but don't want to just futilely repeat actions they have already performed. At least if they lose, they can try again. The adrenaline of the final battle has worn off and there is an uneasy silence and nobody is sure what to do- in the same way soldiers cannot easily adjust to peacetime after a war.
An attitude that revolves around the possibility of acting immediately can cause extreme morale loss in a situation where nothing can be done immediately. These situations do not exist in games, which are designed to keep you playing them, but they can exist outside games. While online gamers understand the importance of day-to-day maintenance through the constant grinding necessary, they tend to be stuck when there is literally nothing left to do, such as if they have maxed out all their stats.
Tight social fabric.
Gamers can organise themselves very quickly into groups of often quite impressive sizes, including people all around the world, regardless of any factors irrelevant to the success of the mission such as race and gender, all working towards the same goal. They agree on the spot what the mission is and often agree very quickly who is performing what role and then think up a plan. They put enormous trust in each other, often putting the lives of their characters in the hands of complete strangers. Research has shown that people who play gamers together form more positive attitudes to each other outside the game, regardless of the success of the mission or in a competitive situation, who wins and who loses.
Not all co-operative groups go right. On World of Warcraft, PUGs – 'pick-up groups' or players who volunteer to be randomly placed in groups together – are notorious for childish arguments and insults, uncooperative play and repeated failure at their mission.
While many gamers, if placed in a competitive situation, will agree to play fairly in order to maximise their overall enjoyment of the game, many others, especially if they do not know each other, will play in ways that make the game unenjoyable for others such as taking the competition personally and insulting other players, targetting less experienced players for easy victories or even cheating or hacking the game.
This is only the attitude of successful gamers.
The mentality describes by McGonigal is the attitude of a gamer confident in the possibility of success at the present moment and of his ability at playing the game in general. World of Warcraft can be a very demoralising environment for a gamer who is new to the game or not particularly skilled at it. Power is everything - there are no distinctions between people apart from their character's statistics and the experience and knowledge of the players - and there is a constant feeling of being an inferior, subhuman entity if you are a 'noob'.
This tends to be less the case on role-playing servers, where people are more dedicated to acting out the roles of their characters in the context of the back-story of the game world than optimising their characters according to the mathematical rules of the game engine. Very powerful characters who are 'acting out of character' are assumed to be played by immature people.
The duty of a gamer to their game.
Even if they possessed the skills and attitude to make a difference to world problems, why would the most dedicated gamers want to apply their skills to an environment outside the game? It would detract from their gaming time. Many serious online gamers require full time work hours to maintain their characters – even days on end without sleep – and have to deal with their large social network of people working with them on the game. They may also be paid to play the game for others and/or also be games designers. To a supremely dedicated gamer, the game world is just as valid a world as the world their physical bodies inhabit and they will not be tempted away from their duties.
Only thrives in environment of games that breeds it.
The attitude of a gamer is nurtured by the game environment. Gamers feel optimism because they are in an environment where there is a constant source of challenges tailored to their capabilities. They feel like they are part of an epic quest because they are literally the main characters of the world's story – everything they do has a direct and visible impact on the future of that world. In the world outside, where this stimulus may not always be available, the attitude will not thrive.
Then we work to create such an environment! McGonigall herself says that 'reality is broken' – to fix reality, you have to make reality be more like the reality that works properly – the world needs to be more like the game world, not the people need to be more like gamers. Otherwise the faults in reality will just spread to the people. The games she describes at the end of the video clip, which insert world problems into a game environment, would be a perfect first stage in mentally conditioning people to this 'mass exodus' into a reality that works properly – if the game actually catches on.
Being a gamer alone does not make one fit to solve the world's problems.
If it were between an expert with a doctorate degree and a person who spent most of their life behind a computer screen, the former would be a better choice for solving the world's problems.
This does not mean that all people who do not play video games are experts or that all people who play video games aren't experts.
In terms of personality, it depends on the person. There are gamers with very good personalities in the same way that there are gamers with bad personalities.
What do you think?