Saturday, May 29, 2010

Jane McGonigal on Games

"Games are the most elevated form of investigation." - Albert Einstein

Jane McGonigal believes deeply in the value of games. I first became aware of here a couple of months ago when my mother pointed me to her TED talk. I should point out my bias: computer games are what got me into programming and computer science. I love a good computer/video game. So, I was obviously interested in her talk. I found it interesting and compelling but I wanted a little more substance. I've been working through the Stanford EE380 Computer Science Colloquiums on iTunes U and I just stumbled over her presentation in 2008. This hour long talk was much more interesting. You can watch it on or on your iThing with iTunes-U (under Fall 2008). Here are my Cliff's notes and thoughts on her presentation.

First, some 2008 stats from her presentation:
  • 1/4 gamers are over 50
  • Average gamer age is 35 years
  • 40% of gamers are women
  • 65% of US households play computer and video games.
  • 88% of youth under 18 play
  • 100s of millions of "hard core" gamers playing 20 hours a week Worldwide
She makes the observation that if you play games weekly when young and growing up, you aren't likely to stop. It is a "lifestyle". Gamers are the majority now and will be probably in the 90%+ in the next 10-20 years.

Clay Shirky estimated it took 100 million mental hours to make Wikipedia (English articles through spring 2008). World of warcraft has 10 million subscribers, average 16 hours a week playing. That's 5 days of World of Warcraft to make Wikipedia. This leads to her main focus which is how can we create games that are compelling and also produce tangible good for the world. I love this idea. I think it has lots of potential, but I must admit that her games don't interest me yet. They sound more like work and less like fun. McGonigal strongly recommends Clay Shirky's book: Here Comes Everybody

For me, the focal point of her talk is when she lists four essentials for happiness, derived from work in positive psychology, and her proposal that the reason why we love games is because they directly stimulate all four aspects of happiness. They are:
  1. satisfying work to do
  2. experience being good at something
  3. spend time with people we like
  4. be part of something bigger

And here's how games address them:
  1. games provide clear missions/quests with concrete goals you can achieve
  2. games provide constant feedback and graduated levels of difficulty constantly training us to be better and better at the game
  3. online games provide community and social interaction with people who, by definition, enjoy the same things you do
  4. games make your part of a mythology, a narrative in some epic story.
I love this part - she concludes this section saying the success we feel in games is Epic. "We don't user the terms Epic in our real lives as much as in games [where we have] Epic Failure and Epic Win and in real life, not so much." "[in games] At every minute there is something for you to todo that matters. This is not something we have in real life."
"Multiplayer games are the ultimate happiness engines." - Jane MacGonigal
One non-game, real-world example is my start up, One of our most important features is our daily, weekly, monthly and all-time ranking of our artists. We've created a way to keep score - for artists. In a very real sense we have made creating artwork into a game. Of course most sites rank content, but we focus a bit more on ranking the artists, the "players", in addition the the content. 

We, as a society, have a large and increasing social surplus being used by games, wikipedia, flikr, youtube, social-media, social-networks, croud-sourcing - this is the economy of engagement but each individual has a limited participation bandwidth. To me this is a novel way to look at the ever increasing information economy - something that is likely encompass all economies before the end of the century. Can we harness games and game-like experiences to create epic adventures in changing the world? I think we can. I think Wikipedia is already a proof positive of a near-game-like experience achieving undeniably world-changing benefits. I believe Jane McGonical is right that we can create even more compelling experiences that are as profound and world changing as wikipedia, if not more-so.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

LiveMatrix - "make[ing] the time dimension of the Web searchable"

I ran across this short reference to LiveMatrix today on This is a very interesting idea. My recent experience tracking the Apple iPad announcement showed how broken the web is for tracking live events. I had twitter up - which had too much noise to be useful. I had several live-blogs up - these were the most useful. Since I still wasn't satisfied, I kept googling throughout Jobs' speech for something better, finding nothing.

Watching the youtube video suggests LiveMatrix is more focused on letting you know about all the various live events happening on the web. That's cool too - I admit to being completely unaware of almost all such events. Perhaps there are more that would interest me.

However, I think the most interesting challenge is aggregating multiple sources covering the same event into an exhaustive, realtime resource.

Great job LiveMatrix for identifying an obvious-in-retrospect need. Let's hope they have some equally good innovation in solving the problem.