Can Computer Games Save Us All? New Research Shows How Gaming Can Help Cure Our Social Ills
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The other side of that coin is the challenge that you lay out: Can we use games to solve real problems? In addition to Foldit, you’ve done some others: Evoke, World Without Oil, and so on….
One of my favorite projects this past year was for the New York Public Library. They were looking for a game that could get young people excited about libraries, specifically the physical space of a library, because young people today do all of their research on the Internet and never come into the actual building.
I thought about, what do young people want, and how can the library help them achieve that? I feel passionately that games should be giving people an opportunity to achieve dreams they already have or goals that already matter to them. I don’t want to tell people what their goal should be.
TM: It’s really a game if it’s voluntary, if we choose it. Positive psychology talks about extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation, extrinsic rewards and intrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards are those where the activity is a reward in itself, and that’s going to be much more likely if we choose it.
Exactly. So what do young people want that has anything to do with a library? Well, a lot of young people want to write books, they want to be authors. That’s one of the most common life goals that we hear from people under 35. So I thought, wouldn’t it be great to make a game where at the end of playing the game you had actually written a book? Not learned to write a book, but you have written a book -- and that book could go in the library. You could be a published author with a book in the library. Then you could bring your friends over and say, “Here’s my book,” and come back with your kids and your grandkids and you’d be like, “Here’s the book that I wrote for the New York Public Library.”
So we made a game where that’s exactly what happened. Anyone can play it from anywhere in the world. If you want to write a book and bring it to your library, the game can play anywhere. It’s called Find the Future.
We thought we’d kick it off in a really fun way. We invited 500 people to play the game together for the first time. We locked them into the main branch of the library overnight, in the building where Ghostbusters was filmed -- that’s a good visual for people -- 6pm to 6am, locked the doors, nobody was allowed out. So they wrote a book. And they actually played the game overnight. We had a book binder on the premises, so that as they were completing each writing class, they were printing out the pages, and the pages were getting sewn by hand together into this beautiful classically bound book.
At 6am, they all lined up, hand-signed the book, the New York Public Library put it into its rare books collections, said they would defend this book for as long as New York City is standing -- and now their names are in the card catalogue as public authors at the library.
It’s pretty cool to see how you can take somebody who’s always wanted to write a book and then give them that achievement in one night in a way that is really meaningful. To have a book in the rare books collection that has the Gutenberg Bible and the handwritten Declaration of Independence, that’s a pretty cool epic win. So I like to think that games can take things that are hard for us or goals that we might not be able to achieve on our own, and give us the opportunity to do it.