Can Computer Games Save Us All? New Research Shows How Gaming Can Help Cure Our Social Ills
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TM: There’s a conversation right now about the 99 percent and the 1 percent. Some among the 99 percent are asking, how do we get our satisfaction opting out of the world of material accumulation and Wall Street? The better the game, the more you play it, the more sustainable.
At a purely economic level, people talk a lot about the value you get, in terms of hours of engagement, out of buying a game versus other things like books or movies or music -- and it’s pretty amazing. Games are designed to be replayable. Now they’re oftentimes designed with creativity tools inside them, so that once you play the game, you can reinvent it. You can make you’re own levels, you can redesign the game for your friends, learn how to create new worlds within the game.
TM: So that once you’ve mastered it, it still has a challenge left.
JM: And the challenge is creation instead of consumption. That’s very different from any other entertainment product that we consume -- that it so instantly shifts you from consumption into the mode of creation.
TM: You point out that many of the most popular games today don’t have a manual that tells you how it works. Very often you have to discover. Portal is that way, right?
JM: One of my favorite games. A lot of these “technically” might have a manual, but the producer knows nobody reads them, so they don’t put a lot of effort into them any more. You get put in this world, and your first job is to figure out: How does the world work? What am I supposed to do here? What’s my goal? And what does it all mean?
This is very different from traditional games, where, if you give me a checkerboard and you want me to play checkers with you, you have to explain to me how it works. We can’t just start playing, and I learn as we go. So this is really a very different sense of self discovery, self exploration. It requires a lot of intelligent attention in those early phases of the game. You almost never work harder than in the first few minutes of the game as you’re trying to figure out what’s going on.
TM: We’ve said that games also build social cohesion. Many people think of a single kid in a room with a computer. Where does all this sociability come out? How does it happen?
JM: I don’t blame people who still have the stereotype of the single person in front of a screen playing alone because it was like that for a while. If you’re talking about gaming in the '80s and '90s, there was a lot of solitary game play. But then games went online, and they became more and more mutli player. Then they became massively multi player, and they became networked and team-based. If you look at the multidimensional social networks now, if you look at the hours spent gaming on the planet, the majority of them right now are spent playing with people we know in real life.
So that’s not even just playing with people on the internet, this is playing with people we have real life face-to-face relationships with. Whether that’s playing a game like Farmville or Words with Friends on our phone, or playing Call of Duty with our friends who are on the same team. We might not be in the same living room, but we’re playing together online. With games like Rock Band and the Wii games, we’re all in the same living room or the same space playing. That’s the majority of game play.