Visions  
comments_image Comments

Can Computer Games Save Us All? New Research Shows How Gaming Can Help Cure Our Social Ills

Tech futurist and game designer Jane McGonigle on how computer games can help the fight against AIDS, heal disabilities, increase optimism, and make us better people.
 
 
Share
 

There are 183 million active computer game players in the United States. The average young person will spend 10,000 hours gaming by the age of 21. More than 5 million "extreme" gamers in the U.S. play an average of 45 hours a week. Videogames took in about $15.5 billion last year.

Most of what you hear about this phenomenon is doom and gloom – people becoming addicted, isolated and socially inept. Some worry that gaming is pulling people away from productive work, fulfilling relationships and real life. But game designer Jane McGonigal says the reason for the mass exodus to virtual worlds is that videogames are increasingly fulfilling genuine human needs. In a very popular TED talk -- and in her first book, Reality Is Broken, just out in paperback – she suggests we can use the lessons of game design to fix what is wrong with the real world.

Jane McGonigal is the director of Game R&D at the Institute for the Future and creative director of Social Chocolate. BusinessWeek called her "one of the ten most important innovators to watch." Oprah magazine thinks she's "one of the twenty most inspiring women in the world." And MIT Technology Review named her "one of top 35 innovators changing the world through technology."

Terrence McNally interviewed McGonigal for AlterNet by phone from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Terrence McNally: I see four strands in what I’ve read about you and your work: Buddhism, games, positive psychology, and entrepreneurism. How do you describe your path?

Jane McGonigal:

That’s a pretty good breakdown, I like it. I think, first and foremost, I try to help people unleash their real-life superpowers to bring out the best in them so they achieve epic wins lead extraordinary lives, and be of extraordinary service to other people.

I have a background in theater and recreation. I used to work with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Theater is play, and recreation -- where we come together and play in real spaces -- is part of building community in the city. That background has been a big part of why I think that play can serve to bring people together in the real world

TM:

You begin the book by defining what a game is. And you weren’t just describing video games, but all kinds of games.

JM: 

Absolutely. It’s important that we put video games in the context of human history. We’ve been playing games for literally as long as we’ve been human. There’s no civilization we have a record of that doesn’t have games. For folks who feel alienated from the world of video games or from the gamers in their lives, it may help to understand that gaming is fundamentally a part of being human.

This ability to come together and play by artificial rules is something that no other species does. The great philosopher, Johan Huizinger, said we are never more human than when we play. I think it’s important to keep in perspective that video games are part of that tradition and that legacy.

TM: I imagine when a lot of people think of a video game or a computer game or a virtual game, their accent is on the video, the virtual or the computer. You’re saying that, at its root – whatever the medium – there is something common to people playing games.

JM: The medium of computer and video games has taken the fundamental psychology that underlies gaming to a new level, and made possible the network effect of people playing actively multi-player games. For the first time in human history, we can have millions of people playing the same game at the same time.

In the same way that agriculture or the design of roads connecting cities took humanity to newer levels of cooperation, I see networked games as one of those technologies that brings us together in a way that hasn’t happened before.

TM: 

How do you compare what you’re talking about with what happens in sports, for instance?

JM: In many ways it’s very similar. I think the reason we play sports is to find out what we’re capable of and how we shake out against other people’s best efforts. We go out for a game or a competition to really see what we’re made of that day. Computer and video games tap into that same drive to challenge ourselves, that desire to be engaged in something that’s difficult for us, or that pleasure of mastering a new skill.

TM: I’ve done my little bit of Rock Band and Wii…I’m basically someone who doesn’t play video games. But sports for me were always a source of connection, flow, of being in the moment. As I read your positive descriptions of multi-player games, I recognized many of those experiences from showing up at a basketball court, perhaps in a city I’d never visited before, and within five minutes we’ve all accepted the voluntary goals, rules and teammates -- and may the best players win. In that moment, I’m as alive as I am doing anything.

JM: One of the early bits of research that really inspired my thinking was Csíkszentmihályi’s original work on the theory of flow or peak experience, where you’re engaged with something that’s challenging for yourself. In his first academic study, Beyond Boredom and Anxiety, he identified a few activities that seemed to provide it regularly: one was sports; one was dancing; and the other was game play. They all provide a structure for people to come together and immerse themselves in a challenge.

TM: Can you lay out a few principles that define a game?

JM: For me, the basic definition of a game is that it’s a voluntary obstacle, an unnecessary challenge that you are volunteering to engage with. That’s the basic premise, that you’re going to agree to try something that’s hard for you, that you’re not sure if it can be done or how it can be done or how you’re going to try to do it, but you agree to give it your best effort and see what happens as a result.

Let’s break that down: first, you have a goal; the game has to give you a sort of arbitrary thing that you’re going to try to achieve, whether it’s to get the ball in the basket or to make words out of tiles on a Scrabble screen. Then it gives you restrictions on how you can achieve that goal. You can’t run while you’re holding the basketball; you can only have seven letters at a time. By making it harder to achieve this goal than if you were just doing it the most efficient way possible, they unlock creativity or call forth strategy.

TM: Voluntary goals and voluntary obstacles.

JM: Then you have a feedback system. It’s really important that you have an idea whether you’re getting close to achieving your goal or not, whether the strategy you’re trying is better or worse than the last one you tried. That can be a point system in sports, or in the way a digital game synchronously provides feedback for every action you take. 

The last condition is simply that it is indeed voluntary, that you can stop at any time, that you’re playing of your own free will. Your self-motivated engagement is key. That’s why we can’t make people play games. If you haven’t volunteered for it, you lose a powerful element of psychology, the positive stress that we get when we choose to tackle a challenge. If you’re playing against your will, you’re going to have all the same resentment that you have towards work or the same anxiety or stress you have about work.

TM: The conditions that promote flow are clear goals, readily available and consistent feedback, and the right stretch between skill and challenge. It seems to me, that’s very much what we’re talking about here as well. 

JM: One of the big benefits of games is that they increase your resilience in the face of challenge. Because games push you to the edge of your ability, you’re always working hard, always trying to get peak effort out of yourself. That seems to increase your ability to stay engaged longer with difficult challenges in your real life. You develop resilience in the face of failure or an ability to stay at a high level of concentration and motivation for longer periods of time. Computer and video games in particular excel at keeping you at the edge of your ability, because they constantly adjust and modulate to be just hard enough for you to barely keep going.

TM: When you say that resilience in games helps us to be resilient in other aspects of our lives, you’re not just saying it seems that way. Almost every assertion you make is based on a lot of scientific research....

JM: I think we’re all very fortunate that there are hundreds of laboratories and scientific departments around the world pouring a lot of time and energy into trying to understand exactly how games affect us. You can go everywhere from Stanford to Berkeley to Harvard to NYU and find these research studies looking at long-term impacts of gaming. I’ve had fun over the last two years collecting all this data, doing meta-analysis and looking for patterns. And psychological resilience is one of the things that shows up in study after study.

TM: As far as I know, your book is the first that pulls all this together. This world has grown a great deal in the time you’ve been studying it. When you first started looking at this 10 years ago, were you pretty much alone?

JM:

I think it’s fair to say that I was out on a limb. I wasn’t entirely by myself, but there were so few others that I didn’t see any of them. In graduate school at Berkeley, I started submitting scientific and academic papers, got accepted at conferences, and gave talks. Everybody’s reaction was sufficiently curious that it motivated me to keep going. Of course, there was also skepticism. Not to say there isn’t skepticism now, but early on there was a lot of it.

 

In the science fiction novel, Ender's Game, all these poor gamers are used and abused by the government to wage war, because they can’t tell the difference between games and reality. Everywhere I went, I heard, “So are you talking about building an Ender's Game that’s going to destroy the world? Are we all going to be puppets for the military?”

Now I think people understand a little bit better that the games we play are tools -- not for other agents to use and abuse us -- but for us to develop skills and abilities that really matter to us. Tools for us to build the best versions of ourselves.

TM: When I first interviewed Csíkszentmihályi in 1997, I asked him who was taking advantage of what he’d learned about flow. How can we bring more of the flow that you’ve discovered in rock climbing or sports and games into our real lives? He said that the military was one of the first organizations that saw value in this.

I think it’s fascinating that Csíkszentmihályi published his first work on flow in 1972, nearly 40 years ago. Yet from the research that I’ve done, it seems that the electronic gaming industry is the first to take full advantage.

JM: 

His book Flow is like the bible of game design, it’s the one thing that everybody has read. People who don’t pay attention to game culture might not be aware of just how seriously game designers take scientific research, particularly around psychology. Game companies have people whose job it is to follow the research and try to implement it. Positive psychology is actually helping players have a more positive experience. I like to say that game designers are essentially happiness engineers. The only thing they really care about is making the player feel these positive emotions, that’s why we play games, it’s the business that we’re in.

TM: And, of course, if the game delivers, it will sell better and be played and recommended to friends more often. If we go back to those three conditions of flow I mentioned -- clear goals, ready consistent feedback and stretch -- very few things in life can apply those criteria as successfully as game design. Could you talk a little bit about that?

JM:

When we try to bring game design principles to reality, we struggle to control two aspects of it: first, constantly adjusting the stretch to be more difficult; and second, the sense that it’s a safe place, that the stakes are still low enough that if you fail, nobody’s going to die.

When I talk to people about making games that can save the real world, the first thing a skeptic says to me is, "In games you die and it doesn’t matter; in the real world somebody dies and they’re really dead." That’s the big conceptual leap that people have trouble making, and where the biggest need for creativity and skill design comes in.

I’m really obsessed with Foldit, a game that I did not work on but that I play, and which I write about in the book. The game was created by scientists at the University of Washington, with the help of some programmers from Bungee, a game development company which makes some of the most epic video games in the world. So top-notch scientists and game programmers.

They wanted to make a game where gamers could be taught to do real medical research,

so they’ve created a virtual environment where gamers can learn how to manipulate virtual proteins.

Everything that happens in the human body happens from proteins that fold and unfold in different configurations, and if they fold up in unfavorable configurations we get diseases like Alzheimer’s or cancer. So scientists have been trying to figure out how to fold proteins in the human body into more stable configurations to prevent disease or how to refold them to stop the unfolding from happening.

 

They’ve created a world where gamers can manipulate these proteins without needing to understand a lot of the science, taking advantage of gamers’ ability to manipulate objects in 3D space. Foldit is really a lot like Tetrus, although more complicated. Tetrus is four shapes, here you’ve got dozens of shapes. The players have gotten good at it and they’ve been taking on questions or challenges that scientists have been unable to figure out. Players actually solved a longstanding question scientists have been trying to figure out: how would you use protein folding to stop the HIV virus from replicating in the body?

Scientists had been working on it for 10 years, the gamers solved it in 10 days. These are not people with PhDs in microbiology, these are ordinary gamers, and there’s talk they could get a Nobel Prize in medicine just for playing a game.

That example shows you can give a really high-stakes challenge like AIDS or cancer to gamers so that they are mastering a new skill, they’re stretching, they’re collaborating, they’re immersed in the flow -- but also they’re doing something that really matters.

TM: We’ve mentioned stretch a few times. When something is too much of a stretch, you fail too much and you can get frustrated. When something is not enough of a stretch you get bored. There’s a sweet spot that seems to bring out flow in people, and the game industry can program that sweet spot into their games in a way that’s very hard to replicate in reality.

You point out in your TED talk that if we take Malcolm Gladwell’s notion of 10,000 hours to achieve mastery, then there are 500 million people in the world who are virtuosos of something. What is that something they’re virtuosos of?

 

JM:

I came up with four powers or skills that seemed to cut across almost any genre of these computer and video games. One is what we call urgent optimism, having a kind of radar for opportunities to rise to the occasion, constantly scanning for the next quest or the next mission so that you can volunteer and tackle it. That’s a pretty interesting skill, somebody who’s always ready to help if you can just get their attention.

Second, blissful productivity -- that resilience to stay engaged in something for a long time, even if it’s hard for you. Gamers are really good at looking for sources of feedback, so they can feel that they’re making progress, so that they can stay engaged. Many young people who’ve been diagnosed with ADD hyperactivity disorder lose the symptoms when they’re playing one of their favorite video games. 

This has led to a lot of controversy. A New York Times editorial about this research said, “It’s not that the symptoms have gone away, it’s just that the real world isn’t as engaging.” That makes me crazy, because I think, well, shouldn’t we fix the real world then? [laughs] Instead of saying that they have a disease. Shouldn’t we just try?

Third, social fabric -- the ability to feel like you’re part of a community where everybody shares certain values, certain goals, and that everybody in the community has a chance to contribute based on their strengths. Online multi-player games are a really great place to see this in action. Your particular avatar, who specializes in a certain skill or a certain power, contributes to the larger group using that skill or power. Everybody gets a chance to add the one thing that they do best.

The last is a sense of epic meaning, being able to see a bigger purpose to your actions, a heroic story, a venture that you’re on or a purpose you’re fulfilling that is bigger than yourself. These kinds of epic narratives keep you working hard, committed to your challenge, and collaborating with others.

 

TM: You’ve said, if real life is not engaging enough, does not test us enough, does not give us enough feedback, and does not reward us enough with a feeling that we matter – then task one would be to rejigger real life so that it can begin to do those things.

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….

JM: 

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.

JM:

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.

TM: Their direction wasn’t merely, “Okay, write a book by 6am.” You structured the night with quests and levels, so that it wasn’t one big leap, it was a number of steps, correct?

JM: We had 100 classes, and each class was inspired by an object in the library. So for example, the handwritten Declaration of Independence. You had to go on this hunt to find the object. You find the object and we tell you cool things about it. Then that unlocks a writing quest. The quest unlocked in that case: make your own declaration. What would you want to stand up and declare as passionately as Thomas Jefferson declared all those years ago?

And then you had to get 56 people to sign it, just the way he had to get 56 people to sign the original declaration. That becomes one chapter in the book. When you have all 100 chapters, you’ve written a book. It’s called 100 Ways to Make History. It’s basically your best 100 ideas for what we should be doing to change the world, to make history, to reinvent the future. We help you write the book.

TM: Breaking things down into chunks of quests -- the same way that games do -- releases an enormous amount of creativity. Another real world example is the game you invented to help yourself when you suffered post-concussion syndrome.

JM:

That is actually the project I’m spending most of my time on now. It started more than a couple of years ago. I had a concussion that did not heal properly, and I was stuck in this post-concussion state where I couldn’t really read or write, I couldn’t be that physically active. I had horrible headaches and nausea, and was really depressed and anxious. And I was in the middle of writing my book.

I obviously had to stop writing it. I was really immersed in these ideas and I thought to myself, you know, this is probably the lowest I’ve ever been. I should really see if a game can get me out of this state, because everything that I’ve been looking at in my research says that games provoke positive emotions; games connect us with meaning and purpose; games help us be more resilient. I thought, surely if I could turn this into a game, I could survive it.

 

So I invented this kind of role-playing adventure game for myself. I originally called it Jane the Concussion Flyer, and I invited my friends and family to play with me. This was really important because I was having a hard time explaining to them just how severe the symptoms were, and how it was impacting my life. It was hard to get on the phone with somebody and say, “By the way I’m completely miserable and I want to die, can you help me?”

But I could say, “Hey, I’m going to play a game to heal my brain, and I have a special role for you to play in the game. Will you play with me?” That opened it up.

So this game involved my friends and family giving me quests to go on -- something as simple as, instead of lying in bed all day, why don’t you sit by the window all day and at least enjoy the view?

Any quest or task took me out of where I was, and they started checking in on me every day to see how I was doing with my quests. And this gave me achievements and help me stay positive.

It worked so well for me that I posted the rules online. I started to hear from people all over the world: “I’m playing this because I’m having knee surgery.” “I’m playing this because I’m taking chemotherapy.” “I’m playing this because I want to quit smoking.” You can actually go online and see people playing it on their blogs and on Facebook. I was taken with how much help it seemed to be, and I decided that we should do it for real -- actually make a real online game that would structure this. We help people who might not be creative enough to roll their own version. We make it possible for them to play. We’re going to launch the game the first week of March.

We’ve been doing clinical trials with Ohio State University Medical Research Center. We’ve been doing the closed beta for the last six months, and it’s pretty exciting for me personally. Something that represented maybe the worst thing that ever happened to me, to get to somewhere where it can be one of the best things I’ve ever done.

TM: That’s really a case of 'gamer heal thyself,' isn’t it?

JM: I do think that it is the resilient thinking of a gamer: When all is lost, there must be something, there is some key I haven’t found, some secret door that I just have to keep looking for. That is a very gamer kind of resilience.

TM: As you point out, gamers who play intensely for hours and hours, fail most of the time. And yet something in the nature of gaming keeps them coming back to it.

Years ago, I imagined that in a future of decreasing resources and places to dispose of waste coupled with a rising population, one path that might save us would be to depend more on experiences than stuff. In the book, you ask, “Why not fix reality?” and you lay out 14 ways that reality could stand to be fixed. One is that games are sustainable, reality isn’t. Talk a bit about this future.

JM: You’re speaking to my heart here, because I think this is one of the most underappreciated aspects... I should probably write a whole book about this. Gamers are not by and large acquiring stuff. They have opted out of this materialistic culture because there is no material there. It’s all about skill acquisition, social action, first hand experience, live experience, that does not by-and-large require a great amount of production or resources. And that is pretty interesting.

People look at gamers and say, “They’re wasting their time. Why aren’t they doing something real? That’s not going to help them get a better job or get ahead in life.”

 

It’s pretty provocative to realize that we can get so many things that we crave: better social relationships, the ability to learn new things and get good at new things, and to experience that state of flow that we crave more than anything else. If we can get that out of games, then maybe we don’t need to get on the hedonic treadmill where we work 60 hour weeks to earn a ton of money to spend on status objects to convince ourselves that we’re happy and successful.

 

If in games we experience success and happiness and community and meaning in a way that’s so much more sustainable, and that bypasses all the BS we’ve told ourselves is necessary to be happy in America…That’s pretty subversive, and I think that’s what’s happening.

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.

JM:

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.

 

What’s interesting on top of that, is that cooperative game play is now outperforming competitive on a rate of three to one. People are preferring to play games where they’re on the same side as the other player. If you were imagining people playing together, but trying to beat each other and trying to kill each other’s avatars -- what you have now more often than not is, “Let’s work together,” “Let’s achieve this together.” It’s a totally different social interaction than trying to compete with somebody.

That evolution has dramatically changed what’s going on in terms of the social engagement, which helps make it possible now for us to really get more trust when we play with each other, more respect for each other, more bonding. We’re more likely to help each other in real life after we play these games together.

That’s another area of the research that has been fascinating to follow. Playing these cooperative games with friends and family makes us more cooperative in real life.

 

TM: If I go back to my sports experience, sports are at the same moment about intense competition and intense cooperation. And I think a player who’s at all aware knows that there’s even cooperation between the competing teams. It takes a great opponent to bring out your best.

JM: And you have to agree to trust that the other team is going to stay in it. You have to trust that everybody is going to value and honor the outcome. Even with competitive games, you are building trust if you get to the end of the game successfully together.

 

TM: I keep thinking of Robert Wright’s book, Non Zero.

JM:

Huge influence on me. Big ideas. I read that years before I started graduate school.

TM: In that book, he says, we think that we grow more and more warlike, when in fact, we grow more and more cooperative.

Another one of my old musings: A question I raised myself 40 years ago: Could the creative among us actually save us from our worst impulses? What if we could create a technology or a media or an artistic expression -- or some combination -- that carries a sense of quality no matter the content? That it would be on some level so essentially true and have an essential integrity that you couldn’t commodify or destroy.

 

And it seems there’s something to that in here. Here the content is the stretch, it’s pursuing goals, it’s finding your best, it’s cooperating. Are we actually, through this process, able to get around the commodification of everything we do?

JM:

I love that idea. As with every other art form and medium and given what a big industry gaming is, it would certainly be a challenge to have that pure of an expression. But look at festivals, things like Burning Man, and the new forms of theater in New York City that are heavily influenced by game design. In Punch Drunk’s production of Sweet No More (in New York now) they take over a whole building, every scene is in a different room, and you have to piece together the play by wandering around.

There are lots of interesting ways that games are leaking into festivals and theater that provides a lot of hope. The famous game designer Will Wright said recently that games are undergoing a Cambrian explosion, referencing the time in evolution where suddenly we went from however many strands of life to massively many more species. Huge experimentation, everything evolving so much more quickly. That’s where it feels like we are with games now. Massive experimentation, massively many more forms and genres, and maybe one of those species will come to be what you are describing, if we get lucky.

TM: If you could stand in the future at 2050 and ask yourself, “Did humanity turn things around?” and if your answer is yes, then how did they do it?

JM: I will tell you how they did it. This will seem like an aside, but bear with me. I’m a big believer in the movement to take back our time.

TM: Jon DeGraff and those folks….

JM: We are working too much. The New Economics Foundation just put out this amazing report on the 21-hour work-week.

They want to move the whole planet to a 21-hour work-week for more sustainability, more equitable employment, so we have more time to spend with our family and friends, doing things that matter intrinsically to us. And to move to a less materialistic, consumption-oriented society. 

I believe that is how we would turn it around, and I think gamers are showing us the way because of how much they value this thing that has no extrinsic value, that doesn’t necessarily help them get ahead in the work place. They spend hours doing this thing that provides all these intrinsic rewards. We can make time for ourselves to play by letting go of our obsession with the formalized 40-hour work-week.

TM: When we look back we’ll say that once that started happening, we had at least come to a fork in the road, and we were headed in the right direction.

Terrence McNally hosts Free Forum on KPFK 90.7FM, Los Angeles and WBA I99.5FM, New York (streaming at kpfk.org and wbai.org). Visit terrencemcnally.net for podcasts of all interviews and more.
 
See more stories tagged with: