Sunday, September 28, 2008

IdeaFestival - Jane McGonigal, Game Designer

I attended the presentation by game designer and future forecaster Jane McGonigal at IdeaFestival on Saturday morning, September 27, 2008. For a Saturday morning, attendance was good with maybe 300 people in the audience.

Jane started off by talking about the impossibility of predicting the future. She is more interested in making the future or thinking about it. So her ideas are to help people shape the future by using games or simulations. One prediction she made was hoping a game designer would get a Nobel Peace Prize by 2032. The concept was a mass group of game players could help shape or shift culture behaviors for the greater good.

Statistics she gave were 65% of U.S. households play games with 88% of Americans under 18 play games every week. Also 70% of companies or non-profits use a type of game to help train personnel. In addition, the average age of gamers in the United States is 35 years old with 40% of them being women. Worldwide it is estimated that 200-300 million people play games more than 20 hours a week.

The idea she wanted to present to attendees at IdeaFestival was that “Reality is broken.” She means that people are good at playing games in artificial worlds but in the real world they are not so good. World of Warcraft was used as an example where players band together and increase they skill points and other attributes but this does not really apply to the real world. Jane made the point while giving her presentation, her real world speech attribute points did not go up +1.

She then brought up the use of brainpower by using the World of Warcraft Wiki web site as example. It currently is the 2nd largest Wiki behind Wikipedia and has 134,000 articles on World of Warcraft making it the largest single subject written about. An economist, Edward Castranova has been studying the trend of people spending largest amounts of time in the virtual world instead of the real world. He conclusion is that this is rational behavior, because it gives people meaning to their lives. Jane study of this as well has led to these points:

Games work better.
1) Better instructions
2) Better feedback
3) Better community
4) Better emotions

A quote she draws inspiration on is from Albert Einstein, “Games are the most elevated form of investigation.” So can games be created to tackle real world problems? Could a game be created where the challenge is to solve a problem that exists now? This has already begun with a game called a “World Without Oil” to help people to try to live with dwindling supplies of oil and as the price became more expensive. Another site is to help you invent the future. So a problem occurs and everyone collaborates on how to solve the issue. The solutions are then reviewed to see if any can be used to help fix a real world problem.

Jane closed with this summary. Reality is broken. People relate to games better. Game designers develop games that allow people to be happier. Afterwards she signed copies of Ecology of Games, a collection of essays which she was one of the contributors.