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Sunday, 21 April 2013

Life like video games?

Video games may be considered adolescent, but imagine if our lives were like video games where you constantly get rewarded for small accomplishments? Great, no?

ALWAYS looking to validate my gaming addiction, I checked out TED talks – everyone’s go-to source for out-of-the-box, forward-thinking smart talk to drop at dinner parties – to see if I could find any ammunition.

As usual TED talks didn’t disappoint.

A speaker named Jane McGonigal, an American game designer (and a woman as well, meaning she gets her choice of gaming geeks), not only argues that video games are good, but goes as far as to advocate spending more hours playing video games because that will make the world a better place.

That’s definitely an argument that I can get behind.

McGonigal argues that games like World Of Warcraft encourage users to tackle seemingly insurmountable tasks, and not only do players accept these epic mission but they work hard to achieve it. She then hits us with the crazy-sounding stat that collectively we have (some of us more than others) spent 5.93 million years playing World Of Warcraft.

Did you know that homo sapiens have spent a total of 5.93 million years alone playing World of Warcraft? Makes you wonder what Darwin would have thought of this feat

McGonigal then puts that in perspective by saying 5.93 million years ago, humans stood on two legs for the first time.

Playing video games for the same amount of time that it takes a species of primate to go from dwelling in trees and dining on insects to building metal mega-cities and flirting with space travel really does put things into perspective. Yeah, suddenly that seems like a heck of a lot of wasted time on gaming.

But McGonigal is undaunted, saying the amount of time a person spends on video games by the time they are 20 years old is 10,000 hours, the same amount of time that that person will have spent in school – and also, incidentally, the same amount of time author Malcolm Gladwell cites as necessary for someone to become really good at something. To quote rapper Macklemore, who was basically quoting Gladwell, “The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint; the greats were great because they painted a lot.”

Well, McGonigal is saying we’re playing a lot of games, but what is it exactly that we’re getting good at?

She’s not quite sure but she knows gamers are Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals. Yeah, SEHI is the acronym for that. That doesn’t really roll off the tongue.

She then goes on to conclude, somewhat uninspiringly, that if we could only create educational games we could start to harness some of the millions of years we’ve wasted on games.

Yeah. Except McGonigal forgot that educational games are pretty much terrible across the board.

It may seem like I’m denigrating McGonigal’s talk but what I really found interesting was the idea that we are in a period of mass exodus into gaming. There are 500 million gamers in the world, and this number is only growing.

McGonigal talks a bit on why games are so inviting, basically saying that it’s because reality sucks. She’s right.

In games, at any moment you could gain any number of seemingly random achievements.

Your characters can gain in skills any time. Maybe you’re attacking zombies, and suddenly get a +1 strength. Jumping over barrels, +1 agility. Read a science book, +1 science. Basically video games give us a ton of positive feedback. What if life was like that, McGonigal quips. The crowd laughs.

But seriously, what if life was like that?

What if when I submitted this article, I received the 60th Article Submitted but only 4th prior to the Official Deadline Achievement? What if we could get the Constant Bus Rider achievement for taking the bus for the 100th time? What if at work we didn’t get rewarded for huge seemingly unachievable goals but for small daily completed tasks?

Wouldn’t it feel great to field a call from an irate customer, hang up, and get the 50th Complainer Customer Achievement? At least it’d put a positive spin on an experience that is otherwise fairly unpleasant.

With smartphones and their ability to track our movements and activities, it’s not very far-fetched to think that this sort of reward system could become possible sometime in the near future, while employers would probably be able to implement some sort of reward system right now. Not that I want this kind of reward system to be used by corporations to manipulate people into work, but it’s sort of inevitable, isn’t it?

It works so well in video games to hook people.

The entire idea of “gamifying” life may sound nuts but if we’ve spent 5.93 million years playing video games, games are doing something right. Maybe it’s time for life to imitate art.

And if this idea sounds like something that would come from a Super Empowered Hopeful Individual, then maybe McGonigal is on to something.

Big Smile No Teeth
> Jason Godfrey can be seen hosting The Link on Life Inspired (Astro B.yond Ch 728). Write to him at

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