Blog Post #1: Gamers as Problem Solvers

It was discussed in class how Turkle argued that technology would be the end of our civilization. By diminishing society to simple sets of rules and interactions that crudely portray the intentions we would like to express, we lose our ability to interact with each other and drift further and further away from wanting to talk face-to-face. While some gamers do tend to recede into their own pocket of safety, surrounded by technology and living through the screen, it is also very true that many gamers do not live this way.

In fact, as Jane McGonigal would argue, gaming allows us to develop harnessable energies that can be put towards real progress – progress that computers or full-time employees sometimes can’t achieve. Games could be described as a simplistic set of rules and interactions that allow players to understand a game, but every game has different rules and interactions. McGonigal would most likely agree that instead of these over-simplifications ruling our lives and making us forget about reality, each game teaches us to internalize different sets of rules. As we play more games and become adept at them, we add these simple rules to our individual repitoires, and in a sense become even more in-tune with these rules by isolating them within video games.

One great example, to take from literature, is Ender’s Game. The space-combat game played within the book ends up to be a real-time interaction between “player” or commander, and actual battleships. Had Ender known that it was not a simple simulation, his fear for sending men to their death or complications about the consequences of losing may have gotten in his way. But within the context of a game, the win was the only thing that mattered, and it was the drive and energy behind using the limited rules to every advantage possible that allowed Ender to win.

McGonigal goes a step further when discussing online games. Not only can gamers use these rules and their optimism to “win” the game, they enlist the help of others using their huge drive for a common goal. Proof that this can be applicable to the real world is contained in the other article we had to read today about protein folding. Combined with computer learning software, a computer can easily take everyone’s playstyles of a game and unify them into one ultimate algorithm machine.

Another interesting “game” to look into is Curiosity – What’s Inside the Cube? by the famous game developer Peter Molyneux. Players connect online to a centralized server, where they assist each other in simply tapping small squares on a giant cube in order to chip away until they reach the center. However, the catch is that only the person to break the final square will be able to see what is inside the cube. No one but Molyneux and another co-developer know what is inside the box, but they have assured that it will be life-changing. Even when the game mechanics are as dull and simple-minded as tapping on a screen repeatedly, around 50,000 players are on at any given time, slowly decimating the cube. The curiosity and drive alone (since surely it can’t be gameplay) are driving these players to work together for an unknown end. It is exciting to imagine the world McGonigal visions, where both drive and the process itself move gamers to collaborate and push for a real-world, tangible goal.

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One Response to Blog Post #1: Gamers as Problem Solvers

  1. cstabile says:

    Very rich ideas in this post and some intriguing contradictions. As Iris pointed out in her role-playing exercise, there’s a dark kernel contained in McGonigal’s vision: think about the end of her TED talk, where she talks about employers being able to harness players’ passions and energies. Do we really want a game-ified work place, for example? What are the implications of that?

    In addition, and regarding Ender’s Game, think about the ongoing controversies about drone warfare and the development of militarized robots (SkyNet lives!). As much as I’m critical of Turkle’s approach, it may be that when it comes to warfare and aggression, there’s something about mediation that enables forms of violence and cruelty that may well be unthinkable face-to-face. Worth talking about in class.

    And finally, Curiosity: What’s Inside the Cube — very interesting example. But what do you make of the investment of all that social energy into what seems to be a Sisyphean task? I suppose you’ll say the point for McGonigal is to harness that social energy (back to the game-ified work place, alas).

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