Thursday, April 9, 2015

Gaming Can Make a Better World

Epic Win
Transcript from video below: 
"This picture [above] pretty much sums up why I think games are so essential to the future survival of the human species... This is a portrait by a photographer named Phil Toledano. He wanted to capture the emotion of gaming, so he set up a camera in front of gamers while they were playing. And this is a classic gaming emotion... This is a gamer who is on the verge of something called an epic win... An epic win is an outcome that is so extraordinarily positive you had no idea it was even possible until you achieved it. It was almost beyond the threshold of imagination. And when you get there you are shocked to discover what you are truly capable of. That is an epic win. This is a gamer on the verge of an epic win. And this is the face that we need to see on millions of problem-solvers all over the world as we try to tackle the obstacles of the next century -- the face of someone who, against all odds is on the verge of an epic win."

Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how.


Jane McGonigal asks: Why doesn't the real world work more like an online game? In the best-designed games, our human experience is optimized: We have important work to do, we're surrounded by potential collaborators, and we learn quickly and in a low-risk environment. In her work as a game designer, she creates games that use mobile and digital technologies to turn everyday spaces into playing fields, and everyday people into teammates. Her game-world insights can explain--and improve--the way we learn, work, solve problems, and lead our real lives. She served as the director of game R&D at the Institute for the Future, and she is the founder of Gameful, which she describes as "a secret headquarters for worldchanging game developers."

Several years ago she suffered a serious concussion, and she created a multiplayer game to get through it, opening it up to anyone to play. In “Superbetter,” players set a goal (health or wellness) and invite others to play with them--and to keep them on track. While most games, and most videogames, have traditionally been about winning, we are now seeing increasing collaboration and games played together to solve problems.

Jane McGonigal

Game Designer Profile


  1. That was my face when I first beat Bioshock Infinite. To this day that's still the best story of any video game I've ever played. Makes me wish I had the technical skill (or a team of devs... yeah, probably that) to create our own game. We'd write one hell of an adventure with characters you'd never forget. :)

    As someone who's played WoW, LoL, etc, I love the collaboration aspect. I just wish more people were willing to actually collaborate. Especially in low pressure settings, most of the players get to a certain point that they don't care about helping each other - they just run in there, hack and slash, and hope that everyone else does the same. And if you die - too bad, so sad, don't care. "LOL stop sucking noob."

    That's why I gave up on LoL, but love the high level raids of WoW, where everyone has a specific role to play, and if they don't play that role, then everyone dies. It actually forces teamwork, and selfish people won't survive.

    1. Yeah, I know what you mean about collaboration breaking down in low pressure situations but you are totally on point about WoW and the importance of specific roles to play. I think that makes a player feel valued and therefore they are motivated. It's these kinds of psychological observations that are important to understand about not just gaming but real life. I truly believe we can learn so much from gaming, or at least the psychology behind it.

      Really, a lot of my motivation for developing my current game project is because a long time ago I asked myself this question, "If we as humans are evolving, then is technology a part of this evolution or is it hindering our evolution because it creates so many crutches (makes things too easy)?"

      Then I started to notice things about the internet and how it seemed to be a conduit of some kind. I met my husband online. It took me 17 days to find him online but I probably would have never found him otherwise because we lived in different states far from each other. I also found all my perfect little dogs that I have rescued and I have met people online who seem to be on the same "wavelength" as I and I have had incredible conversations and leaned so much about life and humanity through these relationships....

      So I started to wonder, is the internet, or "ether" some kind of tool to tap into resources. For instance perhaps the power of attraction works even stronger through the ether because like attracts like and now I can connect with similar energy vibrations through the ether?

      OK, that sounds like a bunch of hocus pocus, but I really do wonder what the benefits are of technology. I know it makes our life easier, but that is not going to help us get stronger, wiser, faster... you know, evolve. So then I started to think about the real tangible things about internet and technology. For one thing, technology makes my ability to visualize very accurate, just like it makes people's potential for achieving epic, awe-inspiring, planetary-scale missions very "real."

      And I have heard of so many famous sports players achieving epic things through visual imagery and visualization. I've even hear amazing things about monks visualizing impossible feats and then accomplishing them.

      So.... what if I combine the power of technology with the potential of visual imagery into a game?

      That's what I am working on. I am trying to use this blog to inform people about the possibilities but I am taking it slow.

    2. What an awesome goal! I don't think dreaming big or thinking outside the box is hocus pocus at all.

      We can definitely learn from gaming. I'm surprised how many people still think it's just a button mashing/point and click time waster. Those people have been playing way too much Candy Crush and not enough real games.

      Like you, I met my wife online. Through gaming and even through the blog I've also met a ton of very cool, like-minded people (yourself included). Like does attract like. And the Internet is a fantastic hub for "meeting" people we wouldn't have otherwise met. Even in-game.

      I think a lot of people incorrectly assume you can't bond with someone (especially a stranger) through a video game. But you definitely can. Hell, even the wife and I bond over video games, and we don't even have to be in the same room. There was a scientific study that shows that when relationships go stale it tends not to be because of romance but because they stop overcoming challenges together. And for us in particular, WoW fulfills that need. We'll play together, and even if we're on different machines in different rooms essentially just staring at our screens and pushing buttons we're doing it together. And above all, having to work as a team to beat whatever mission we've been given is an awesome bonding experience. As I said above, you have to work together to win. You can't just be selfish. It adds to the experience. And ultimately, it shows that you don't even have to be in the same room or even say a word to your spouse to spend 4 hours of quality time and bond with them. That's pretty incredible.

      Have you heard of or played the game Dying Light? It's a zombie survival game, but what I think is cool about it is that they have a cooperative mode. So if you're going through the game and are having trouble beating a mission, you can go into the 'lobby' and find someone to help you with the mission. Then you get to replay that same mission, but with others helping you out. And even though you can group together and tackle a mission that no one in the group's completed, a lot of people are very willing to help out players without expecting anything in return, as they've already beaten that mission and already claimed the rewards. To me, that's really cool, and I think that has something to say about gaming and the way we act with one another. Like you said above in the blog post, it's not ALWAYS about winning.

    3. Wow! I just checked out Dying Light and it seems like an awesome, action packed adventure! I like how it is from the perspective of FPS but with free running mechanics. This perspective helps create a more immersive game that can be played while learning experiential knowledge-- which I think is the best way to learn (and why games can be so valuable in learning, ie simulations).

      That being said, what it looks like you can learn in Dying Light is teamwork (among other things)! I love the "cooperative mode." Wikipedia says, "excellent cooperative multiplayer, huge variety of side-quests, as well the great difference between the day and the night."

      It sounds like I could very easily become obsessed with this game, so I have to tread lightly. How cool is that to play a character who practices parkour!

      I think quests in a game are important. Actually, today I am working on concept art for some of the "quests" in my current game project. Everything in this game has deeper meaning that a player can see if he looks but I am not making it obvious.

      I'm afraid to be too straightforward with all the hidden meaning. I am keeping it metaphoric so that players may process the meaning on a more subconscious level but it's not screaming in their faces. So there is a lot of hidden meaning.

      I would love to post all my concept art for this game on the blog but I think it is too soon. I will start posting more about the game in May.

      Hey, BTW, I got The Missing Link and I love how it starts, "It was a quiet, blissful Monday morning when Agnes Butterton crippled civilization.... Humanity never saw it coming. But in all fairness, neither did Agnes, who, at eighty-seven-years of age, could hardly identify the shapes of the electronic typeset in front of her..."

      Nice Set up! I look forward to reading more!

    4. The first person parkour while you're fleeing from zombies is so incredibly immersive. It's not really a 'scary' game, but it does feel like you're right in the middle of a huge zombie swarm.

      I love quests also, and they do definitely contribute to the value of the game. I also love when a game, like Dying Light, is open world. There's no point A to point B focusing. You can go wherever you please and do quests as you please. Some contribute to the story, some don't. I like the freedom of that. If anything, it only adds value to the quests. I can tackle them as I choose, rather than being told how to do them. And as stupid as it sounds, it helps build organizational and time management skills (when the sun goes down the worst of the worst zombies that are almost unkillable come out, so you have to do whatever quests you want in the day time, then find your way to a safe zone before night arrives, otherwise you're in some serious trouble).

      Also, I'm glad to hear we're already starting off well with the book! It's got a lot of Internet humor, so if anyone's going to get it, we're sure you will. We also like to put metaphors in our writing, so we hope you notice them and appreciate them.

      On that note, I don't often see a lot of metaphors in gaming. It's usually very straight forward. I like that, though, and I'm excited to see more of your project as you unveil it. I know you're keeping things a little more under wraps right now, but anything you can share now? Even just the genre?

    5. It is a 3rd person "space-type" shooter with esoteric themes.

      That's all for now ;-)

  2. Most interesting write and also the video.. Excellent post and subject.

    1. Thanks, Yvonne! I believe in the power of gaming for many of the reasons Jane McGonigal sites. I think we can use technology for amazing things and I look forward to the future and all the possibilities.

  3. "incentives to learn the habits of heroes" -- good values to acquire! The world needs more of this.

    1. Yes! Why not learn how to save the world and be a hero? After all, we tend to go in the direction we are looking. Perhaps actually acting out a roll in games will help direct players in their real life.

      I think everyone has a purpose and looking in a virtual world where the possibilities are endless may inform how many possibility there are in real life!

  4. Games don't work like the real world because games are sorta scripted or confined to the coding haha but yeah they can teach great values. I've had that face before and another one when I wanted to biff the controller at the tv lol what I hate now is most games have no challenge, they are easy to beat and if you die, whoops, back to checkpoint that is ten feet behind you. And if you put them on hard they are just harder because of increased A.I. nothing really challenging about them.

    1. I totally agree about no challenge in today's games and that's why I like games with riddles and puzzles. I remember as a kid in the '90s loving King's Quest. I loved it because it was like this world that I could enter and it had all these mysteries to figure out and characters to meet.
      However, that was an old school adventure game that had it's flaws. The riddles were nearly impossible to solve... and today it wouldn't be so challenging because now we have the internet to get hints. Let's face it parts of King's Quest were just unfair, like trying to barely navigate cliffs and you had to save it a lot because you could die at anytime and if you don't have a saved game you had to start all over. Also you could overlook picking up an item you need and then you couldn't finish the game.
      So I guess in some ways games are better and in some ways not... we need a new kind of game!

      ... I'm working on it...

    2. lol I remember King's Quest, some of those riddles were a big big pain in the butt. But yeah, with the internet they wouldn't be so bad now. That and the incredible machine were the first two I played on computer.

      Good to know you're working on it.

  5. I think we're getting there more every day. Big drop in face to face communication is leading the way. Well written, and I enjoyed the video!

    1. Thanks, Dixie! Yeah, face to face communication is lacking in video games. However, there are still RPG games and such that provide excellent skill building.

  6. Gaming is a two-edged sword. It is used a lot in education, but not in pedagogy, and the founders of the gaming scene largely borrowed the concept from Pentagon. Most effective and most expensive private prep schools forgo with traditional teaching altogether and utilize a method akin to playing a game to guarantee their students perfect college board exams. There is some excellent work done in that direction with cooperative games, a la Pandemic.

    Same can not be said unequivocally about the first person shooters and similar entertainment. Role playing can, and does, bring out the worst in people. Where it is used for training, that kind of behavior will bring on significant repercussions (just try to play-shoot prisoners and civilians during a military exercise, and you shall receive plenty of corrective attention).

    There is a lot written about negative effects of television and video game violence, and the expense and commercialism of the video game publishing should give a pause to a budding game designer. There is another criticism, going back over a century, that a person who isolates themselves in their own escape world is failing to develop into adequate personhood, because they miss out on socializing with their peers and in the later stages, they fail to go out and meet their better half. At the time before television, pulp fiction and poetry were seen as the cause. Partly as a consequence of the alienation and social isolation of the modern industrialized and urbanized society, internet has brought isolated people closer together, and has also hurt others and made them even more isolated. Consider how the younger Boston Bomber, among others, have self-radicalized themselves on the internet.

    1. You bring up a lot of interesting points. I think the first line of what you say sums it up well, "Gaming is a two-edged sword." And I think this is the way with everything-- It all depends on your point of view.

      For example, in the 1950s and 60s the claim was that comic books would destroy society. And then television and now games and so forth. However, it's ironic that today the 60s-70s time period in comic books is considered the silver Age and these comics have become collectibles and that period of time is considered a time of artistic advancement. And I'm sure a parent of today would encourage their child to read and learn about classic comics. So I guess hindsight is 20/20 but you can't see it at the time, ie. can't see the forest, for the trees.

      So perhaps our perspective is too small right now to truly see the actual value of modern gaming. I have pondered the problem of alienation from society and human contact that could result from too much use of technology in isolation. In fact, I have experiential knowledge of this topic and I believe experience is the best form of learning. I have encountered not only my husband through the internet, but very good friends and meaningful relationships.

      A few comments above I had a similar conversation with another blogger regarding his experience with the internet and technology having the opposite effect of isolation. He and I see the internet and online gaming as bringing people closer together. He says, "I think a lot of people incorrectly assume you can't bond with someone (especially a stranger) through a video game. But you definitely can. Hell, even the wife and I bond over video games, and we don't even have to be in the same room... We'll play together, and even if we're on different machines in different rooms essentially just staring at our screens and pushing buttons we're doing it together. And above all, having to work as a team to beat whatever mission we've been given is an awesome bonding experience."

      So maybe online gaming can bring the world closer together, and not isolate. It is the other side of the two-edged sword, the proverbial opposite side of the coin. Likewise, self-radicalization has occurred well before the internet. Look at the uni bomber-- he was against modern technology, not a product of modern technology. There are two sides to every story.

      You mention that the expense and commercialism of video game publishing should give pause to a game designer. Yeah, the big triple A games might seem this way, but if anything the current reality is that there is a Renaissance of small teams that now have powerful tools to create quality games. Just look at Mindcraft-- that was just 1 guy who made it and sold it to Microsoft. Now you can ship games independently on steam, apple store... etc.. I think today there is a lot more freedom and I think that is good. I think what this is allowing us (humanity) is the opportunity to share our different perspectives. It is an opportunity for ideas to become reality and perhaps use technology for good. It is the American Dream.

  7. I have always enjoyed video games and it is cool to know that games are now being made to help people learn to solve problems. Fun and educational in a way that doesn't feel educational. I really loved seeing the picture of the face at that moment. :)

    1. Hey, Jess! Yeah, games can be put to so many uses. I often try to make class seem like a game to my younger students. If I call class a game, then it seems a lot more fun (even if it is a game in name only).

  8. Very interesting post. I actually read it twice. Comments included.
    I've always been a big fan of games, mostly because of their capacity to develop problem-solving skills, but of course, the problem lies in being obsessed with them. Much more could be said, but most has already been said.

    1. Nice... I am glad to hear that someone reads the comments. I find that a lot of the time I communicate more in my blog comments than blog posts!!

      Yes, games can build valuable skills. I do believe that there is a lot of value to be found in gaming, however, I do tend to have an addictive personality when it comes to gaming. In the past, I have decided not to even try a game because I am afraid my obsession will take over.... however, over the years I have learned restraint to put down the controller.

      BTW, it is amazing how many things we can make into games... like after reading your blog, the concept of zit popping as a game did enter my mind ;-) LOL

    2. hahaha! That's a hilarious Idea. I'm sure my friend would play it.
      I've also been telling my friends for years that gaming is the future of entertainment. The stories and graphics in games are so advanced, it's like watching a movie (biggest entertainment money maker) in which you are the main character (Ego message). Gaming is doomed to rise above.

  9. Fantastic post and excellent comments made on the subject!

    I don't think I could add any more to the conversation!

    1. Hey Brad! Thanks for stopping by. From reading your other blogs, I know you have lots of cool gaming knowledge, so I am glad to see you here!

  10. Hello and a great Weekend to you and yours dear Lady Lauren....
    ...Thank you dear Lady for joining us at our little "Crypt"...
    I really enjoy RPG's...
    (mostly some form of D&D)

    1. Hey Dr. Theda! Happy weekend to you, too. You have come to the right place because I am also a big fan of D&D! However, here you will find lots of Dragons but not dungeons. Only free-range dragons roam here.

    2. You seem to be "good Spirited".... and also a nice sense of humor....(both Great qualities) , dear Lady...

    3. Dear Lady we will put together a Joker Post in a in a bit with the song and Video (by the "artist" formerly known as "Prince" for you ...
      We try to post most any "request" that folks ask of us...
      a blessed day to you...

    4. Good greetings, my Lord. Methinks your flattery is a great compliment to thee. My comment on your blog twas but a token of my true regard for your comical pages.

      Fare thee well in thy travels, and we shall meet again at your little Crypt.

    5. Sorry dear Lady...
      We tried to post "Bat-Dance"... it would seem that that song is no longer available in this country...
      Not "Flattery" dear Lady... just the way we were raised...

  11. only if they get rid of the violence that most games promote

    1. Yes, I agree. As a game design teacher I take points off for violence and let the students know that violence is not OK. However, do not let the violent games cloud your judgement of games in general (there are SO many nonviolent games). Gaming can be good.

      Here are parts of the transcript (including time in video) from this post's TED talk that explain how gaming can be used for good:

      So, I take my inspiration from something that happened 2,500 years ago. These are ancient dice, made out of sheep's knuckles. Right? Before we had awesome game controllers, we had sheep's knuckles. And these represent the first game equipment designed by human beings. And if you're familiar with the work of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, you might know this history, which is the history of who invented games and why. Herodotus says that games, particularly dice games, were invented in the kingdom of Lydia during a time of famine.
      Apparently, there was such a severe famine that the king of Lydia decided that they had to do something crazy. People were suffering. People were fighting. It was an extreme situation, they needed an extreme solution. So, according to Herodotus, they invented dice games and they set up a kingdom-wide policy: On one day, everybody would eat, and on the next day, everybody would play games. And they would be so immersed in playing the dice games because games are so engaging, and immerse us in such satisfying blissful productivity, they would ignore the fact that they had no food to eat. And then on the next day, they would play games; and on the next day, they would eat.
      And according to Herodotus, they passed 18 years this way, surviving through a famine by eating on one day and playing games on the next. Now, this is exactly, I think, how we're using games today. We're using games to escape real-world suffering. We're using games to get away from everything that's broken in the real environment, everything that's not satisfying about real life, and we're getting what we need from games.
      But it doesn't have to end there. This is really exciting. According to Herodotus, after 18 years the famine wasn't getting better, so the king decided they would play one final dice game. They divided the entire kingdom in half. They played one dice game, and the winners of that game got to go on an epic adventure. They would leave Lydia, and they would go out in search of a new place to live, leaving behind just enough people to survive on the resources that were available, and hopefully to take their civilization somewhere else where they could thrive.
      Now, this sounds crazy, right? But recently, DNA evidence has shown that the Etruscans, who then led to the Roman Empire, actually share the same DNA as the ancient Lydians. And so, recently, scientists have suggested that Herodotus' crazy story is actually true. And geologists have found evidence of a global cooling that lasted for nearly 20 years that could have explained the famine. So, this crazy story might be true. They might have actually saved their culture by playing games, escaping to games for 18 years, and then been so inspired, and knew so much about how to come together with games, that they actually saved the entire civilization that way.

    2. Sims2 and Spore are the only "games' that we play ( simply because we can make our own little worlds to help us take our mind off of "things" ... a form of "escapism"...
      just up and go to a non-existent place that only exists on your computer... just to leave your troubles and cares behind ... if only for a little while..

  12. She has a point. Games can teach us to adapt and grow.
    Clever how she created that game to help herself to better health.
    Of course, you would think The Sims would've taught people how to lead better and more productive lives...

    1. Alex, you bring up a really good point-- Simulation and the power of experiential learning.

      Games like flight simulators and a nursing simulation in Second Life. Tacoma Community College in Washington has a nursing simulation hosted within Second Life and they are collaborating with other nursing schools.

      The simulator allows students to react to a situation, to choose what medications to administer, to chart their actions, to monitor the consequences, and to adjust treatments.

      And there is the concept of gaming technology helping us visualize outcomes such as athletes do before competitions.

    2. Sounds like a fascinating career, Lauren

    3. Hi Carole Anne Carr! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    4. We do Not play Sims the Normal ways....
      Graveyards ... monsters and Many "Zombies"..
      And tentacled Eyeball Space invaders...
      ... "Mod the Sims" is a great place for Free downloads to customize your own Sims World...

    5. I need to check out "Mod the Sims"! Thanks for telling me about it. To be honest with you-- years ago when the Sims first came out, I was afraid to even try it. I feared I would get so immersed in the world that I would desert my life.

      I have that tendency with good games.

      My students love mods! I will def try it out! Thanks!

  13. Hmmm... the pic says it all.
    He looks so excited yet he looks haggard maybe from too much playing or without sleep. I love how fascinating the games are today
    and I just hope that the youth of today have the discipline it takes
    to prioritize and manage their time well.

    1. Ann, thank you for stopping by. I teach students and I try to show them how to balance their life and manage their time well.

      Hey, I see that you have an interior design blog. I've wanted to get an interior designer to my blog because one thing I have been able to use a game engine for is visualize interior design.

      I've had a client walk through a virtual 3D model of their space and see new things and get ideas. One client walking through her virtual kitchen loved how one entire wall was subway tile. In reality, it was subway tile because it was easier to texture the whole wall of the model than just the back splash. However, that happy accident changed the direction of the tile back splash and in the end the entire wall was tiled!

      3D interactive visualization is an amazing tool!