NowPublic@SXSW2008: Jane McGonigal (ARG Designer) - Keynote
SXSWi 2008 - Keynote: Jane McGonigal
Jane McGonigal is one of the foremost thought leaders in ARGs and is currently a senior researcher at the Institute for the Future. Her excellent keynote at SXSW explores the interrelated concepts of ARGs (Alternate Reality Games) and the subject of happiness.
McGonigal is an alternate reality game (ARG) designer who, instead of trying to make games more realistic and life-like, is trying to make the real world more like games.
She suggested that we need more alternate realities and has brought a game designer's perspective to "the science of happiness". In imagining what the future might be like, McGonigal has been paying close attention to research conducted around the subject of happiness. In the past year, there has been an explosion of attention on this topic.
A new scientific field of research has emerged called "positive psychology", wherein, psychologists are beginning to investigate and explore what makes us happy, what makes us well, best case scenarios for human existence.
Recently, McGonigal has begun to notice fascinating parallels emerge between study of happiness and the four tenets of game design.
The Study of Happiness
There has been an explosion of metrics for measuring happiness and ways to insert happiness- making things in your life. McGonigal asked the audience: "are YOU in the happiness business?" We better start to think about this very soon. Things are changing.
McGonigal presented a forecast (to 2013) of some of the most plausible scenarios she and her colleagues expect in the coming years:
• Quality of life will become a primary metric for evaluating experiences
• Positive pyschology will become a principal influence on design
• Communities will form around different visions of a "real life worth living".
• Value will be defined as a measurable increase in real happiness or well being, what McGonigal calls "the new capital".
Happiness is the new capital. But happiness doesn't mean what it used to. It is no longer just a warm fuzzy thing, "like a picture of a happy puppy". (audience laughs)
She identified four things that make humans happy:
1. having satisfying work to do
2. experience of being good at something
3. time spent with people we love
4. chance to be a part of something bigger
But McGonigal realized that games and gaming give you all of these experience; and she suggested that multiplayer games are the ultimate happiness engine.
How Games Make Us Happy
Something about our game worlds make us feel good at something. Games come with better instructions (than life), we have a mission and a sense of purpose.
Games are giving us better feedback, help us see how to grow and get better; and games have a better sense of community, everyone has bought into the same fictional world, even in the most ruthless competitive game.
Games allow us to feel part of something in a way that the world often doesn't.
McGonigal is critical of people who suggest that we are witnessing a "global mass exodus to virtual worlds and online worlds of gaming".
Parents are worried about kids spending all of their time on gaming, but kids are getting something from games and gaming that they're not getting from school or other parts of life and she suggests that we need to examine this because the numbers keep going up -- more and more people are playing these games.
But what if we took everything we've learned from creating gaming worlds and applied this to real life?
For many gamers, in terms of perceived quality of life, virtuality is beating reality.
For a lot of people, their own lives are not as exciting and, as such, McGonigal feels moral and ethical obligation to design games that promote this kind of positive experience in the real world.
For her, games should be everywhere. Why limit what we create to the screen, the console...why aren't we putting games everywhere in our world?
Recent game examples moving in this direction:
ChoreWars -- play to "claim experience points for housework"
Zyked - real world "playful exercising" game
Seriosity -- overlay of a 'virtual currency' on top of everyday work productivity software
Citizen Logistics -- mobile collaborative game to problem solve in everyday life
These are some signals, but what are we supposed to do in the meantime?
ALTERNATE REALITY GAMES
ARGs are not alternative realities, but alternate ones. They are not an escape from reality, but an alternate way of experiencing reality -- immersive experiences that are changing reality.
The term 'alternate reality' is originally from science fiction and defined simply as "another way of experiencing existence" (G.L. Elrick).
McGonigal cited an example of a game that she worked on, which won a SXSW interactive award on Sunday:
The "World Without Oil" game is a global online simulation of an oil shortage, where players were asked to live as though oil was gone from their real lives. They would know what the fictional parameters were of their real geography and were able to use the web to show other gamers what their world had become. Users contributed all kinds of content to the site, gaming environment, and narrative: geocaching, video, podcasts. Everything is archived online. The ARG lasted for 32 weeks. Things got very apocalyptic but then the players got together and fixed things to make it work out for the best. Players documented different topics of discussion (and learning) that arose through people's participation in the ARG.
ARGs are helping to amplify human happiness
McGonigal suggested that ARGs are helping to make us happier by promoting the following attributes and skill sets:
• Mobbability -- ability to collaborate and coordinate on really large scales
• Cooperation Radar -- ability to know who would be good at certain tasks, keep track of people's strengths
• Ping Quotient -- ability and willingness to engage with requests made of you, and good at reaching out to other people
• Signal/Noise Management -- amazing ability to handle so much noise and to know instinctively which bit of information is relevant at a given moment
• Longbroading -- ability to think in much bigger systems, zoomed out view of systems
• Emergensight -- idea that you can spot patterns as they occur and be ready to take advantage of them, and be comfortable with the messy complexity of everything
McGonigal believes that these attributes are helping to amplify the four things that make us happy (as above).
"So", she asked, "where do we go next? What's the infrastructure for giving more people these 'superhero-like' strengths?"
Although McGonigal admitted that we don't have this intrastructure yet, she offered some examples that suggest excellent future gaming opportunities:
• Twitter - "a good place to start, as it allows collective instantaneous interaction
• Nike iPod - McGonigal is dying to make an ARG for it, by working with the interaction and feedback you receive while using it
• Airplanes -- potential to develop interactive 'games for planes'
• Dogs -- Her dog wears a 'sniff collar', which identifies it as part of a social networks for dogs (audience laughter); she wants to build an MMO for dogs using this technology
• my car is a video game -- blog of her friend's car, using car as game space
• Trackstick -- records your GPS location every five seconds tracks your journey through the world
• The Lost Ring -- ARG for 2008 Olympics in Beijing; opportunity for people to play an ARG at the Olympics, where people can participate in a global adventure.
McGonigal suggested that soon enough, most of us (here at SXSW) will be in what she calls "the happiness business". She stated that "games designers have huge head start at doing this, having already worked on and developed online and virtual world experiences"; and she concluded that "alternate realities signal the desire, need, and opportunity for all of us to redesign reality for real quality of life. Reality is kind of broken but we can be the ones to fix it."
Question & Answer:
Question: Dept of Defense has been proactive in terms of developing games and using gaming language. Can gaming help to prevent or does it promote war?
McGonigal: Military has been using games to give soldiers emotional distance from actual war. Gaming is a powerful experiential medium that can encourage people to do things they wouldn't normally do. I think we need to promote other game forms that promote peace and I think gaming has the power to do that.
Q: To what extent are gaming, blogging, etc substitutes for things missing in our live or are they building new experiences on top of life?
A: I do worry that some gamers are replacing their broken realities with games. It's important for us to have a real conversation about this. Some people have opted out of reality and we need to fix that - and also encourage more face to face interaction.
Q: ARGs have been very narrative driven, not as much about interaction with people. What are your thoughts on how that's developing?
A: Much of the press around ARGs has been about the online components of the games but there are lots of examples that are promoting individual creativity and real-world interaction, like SS0.org.
Q: How do you continue the narrative of games, especially when many are only for a short period of time and the game reality gradually fades?
A: It's the business model that needs to get fixed. Games should not be marketing tools but open-ended models that allow gameplay to continue. It's important to seek out organizations that promote new models...so if you guys could invent new business models that would be great.
Q: McDonalds is involved in your game "The Lost Ring". How do you reconcile the game as 'happiness engine' with corporate involvement in funding the game?
A: We don't have sponsors for our game, but I'm excited to be working with organizations who are big enough to enable a global community to get involved with ARGs. It's always going to be tricky to navigate the system, but there are more opportunities now to still produce the gaming experiences we want to create without pressure from those big organizations of how to do it.
Q: In terms of gender, video games are often associated with male experience, narratives, and perspectives. What's your take on gender in the gaming world?
A: I hear you, I think the subject matter of many games is a big part of it because a lot of girls are just not as into dwarves, and elves and that kind of thing as boys. (Audience laughs).
Women are a very different community of gamers and demand different things from the gaming experience, but I think that things are shifting in a positive direction where games will not continue to be geared toward male-centric expereinces.