Revenge of the gamers: an epic win for the worldDecember 7th, 2010 by Tommaso De Benetti
As a teenager, I found most adults just couldn’t see the point of videogames. My own parents never seemed to grasp that games had moved on since the days of Pong and Space Invaders. Despite the obvious coolness of my virtual worlds, mom would perpetually storm up to my room and start yelling about irritating trivia like “school work”, “doing your chores”, and the so called “real world” waiting outside the damn door.
Now, at last, game designer and researcher Jane McGonigal has finally given me the argument I so desperately needed as a child (given I started with a Commodore 16 at age five, it’s been a long wait). Playing games can now help to save the real world.
Massive, multiplayer and misunderstood
Jane McGonigal argues that, far from the stereotype of the slack-jawed loner, videogame players are, in fact, engaged, active and motivated to collaborate with each other. Basically, gamers are better at operating in their virtual lives than most people are in their real ones (ignoring the bloodthirsty, megalomaniac nature of their virtual personas, of course).
The statistics are astounding. Globally, every week, people spend the equivalent of 3 billion days playing games. Since it was released in 2004, World of Warcraft devotees alone have racked up 5.93 million years of game play. The average young person, growing up in a game-playing country, will have spent 10,000 hours playing by the time they reach 21. It’s a whole parallel line of education, one that goes almost unnoticed by high schools and colleges.
In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell claims (now here’s a coincidence) that 10,000 hours of study is exactly the time it takes to become an expert in virtually any job or discipline. But if that’s the case, what exactly is it that 500 million gamers worldwide are so good at?
Jane McGonigal has some answers. Gamers are extremely self-motivated, able to weave tight-knit social networks, good at working hard (and enjoying it!) and addicted to “epic meaning” – great stories, in other words. This powerful mix creates a breed of super-empowered, hopeful individuals. The problem is, they think that they can only change virtual worlds, not the real one. (Blame their parents for this).
So the question is, how do we get gamers to use their phenomenal skill set and motivation to solve real world problems? The answer is simple: we create world-changing games for them to play. With a little help from videogame theorist Edward Castronova, that’s exactly what Jane McGonigal has set out to do.
One of her recent pilots, created in collaboration with the Institute for the Future, was the Superstruct Game. Superstruct works like massively multiplayer disaster movie – a crowd of gamers play together to invent solutions (superstructures) to crises that threaten the planet – from fuel shortages to the global exodus of refugees.
Far from being addicted to a “time wasting hobby” McGonigal’s work shows that gamers are a crowd of experts, ready, waiting and willing to use their skills to create epic wins for the future of the real world.
All of which finally allows me to prove my parents wrong – real life isn’t just outside the door, it’s flickering onscreen, right in front of us.