Games have the potential to save the world. At least according to Jane McGonical, whose manifesto for the next decade is to make saving the world in real life as easy as it is to save in online games. With staggering stats she makes a convincing case, that converges with talk within the field of the game layer being the next generation to social networking. We spend 3 billion hours a week playing online games, and accrue over 10 thousand hours by the age of 21 – the same amount of time people spend at school by the same age, and Malcolm Gladwell’s golden number for the recipe for success. Gamers are an untapped resource, and gaming is a powerful platform that can be harnessed to solve real world challenges.
What’s interesting is that the very reasons for which many people might be against gaming – anti-social, violence, etc – are the exact opposite of what actually makes gaming compelling in the first place. Instead of breaking social links, it can reinforce collaboration; rather than causing laziness it promotes virtual productivity, problem solving and optimism. Gamers are empowered and hopeful. So by transferring these dynamics to real world problems in the form of a game, it will inevitably re-frame the way we approach specific challenges. McGonigal’s work on games tackling oil shortage and social innovation questions does exactly that: it blurs the lines between gaming and real life to realize tangible long-term effects, and be a force for good.
The key in these discussions, is that the semantics associated with “gaming” are undergoing a radical change. Just as “design” is no longer considered to be just about developing an aesthetic form but more about a thought process, “gaming” should no longer be seen as a medium, but instead as a model. In many ways it parallels behavioural economics. It’s more than a form of entertainment, but a discipline that understands human psychology to elicit a behavioural response. Game dynamics, if harnessed in the right way and for the right reasons, are an immensely powerful social tool.