As social networking, games and education converge great minds continue to explore the potential of gameplay to encourage and enhance learning. Among the most impressive innovators I’ve encountered in 2010 is Jane McGonigal. McGonigal’s online games have genuinely carved open a wonderful new pathway to human evolution via games.
McGonigal’s ideas seem radical at first pass. While it certainly isn’t true that every radical new idea is an evolutionary leap, it is always true that giant leaps look radical when we first encounter them. The basic underlying premise in McGonigal’s work is that people spend an enormous amount of collective time playing online games, so much in fact that a typical American youth should be considered a virtuoso — at game play.
McGonigal’s most recent game is featured in the video above. You can learn more about this game online.
McGonigal simpy asked the question, what are these game players learning? Her conclusions are simple and straightforward. Most notably, they are learning to collaborate, problem solve and create (which you’ll likely recognize as essential 21st century skills.) Unexpectedly McGonigal notes that they are also learning an optimistic outlook. She points to the phenomena of safe failure and persistance and rightly recognizes a genuine emotional intelligence for optimism that exists in game players.
|Gamasutra called McGonigal “The Queen Bee of ARG’s” in this 2007 Article.|
Now of course this idea seems radical because society wants us to regard game players as glassy-eyed basement trapped gluttons. In fact more than a decade spent with game players of all ages has taught me that the demographic skews toward highly intelligent, social indivisuals who are very, very often disenfranchised learners in our ever-churning factory model educational systems.
|In a February 2010 interview with Wired Magazine, McGonigal said Games — particularly alternate reality games — inspire large groups of people to pool their knowledge and skills to overcome obstacles, and this is precisely what’s needed to tackle global social issues, such as poverty, hunger, disease and climate change.|
McGonigal concluded that we as a society are on the verge of a major opportunity – curteosy of our obsession with games. We have the potential to harvest all those hours of game experience and turn them toward social responsibility. This part of the argument is of course deeply optimistic, but thus far her work is enjoying some significant success – and I suspect that given the slant toward a potentially more optimistic and socially responsible youth that correlates to game play and technology innovation – she may continue to find significant support for these ideas.
Already she’s created several very interesting projects, focusing on everything from poverty to fuel shortages. She embews urgency and relevance along with personal accountability into the game play experiences and has found that when the game themes run tightly in parallel to ‘real-world’ problems, knowledge transfer is occuring. In other words, when people have to invent self-sacrifice and other accomodations to save their virtual selves in the face of imminent fossil fuel extinction, they not only find the solution to the problem in the game – they transfer both knowledge and behavior to their everyday life.
In her Ted Talk, McGonigal speaks of an epic win, that moment for a game players when they reach an extraordinary epiphany – accomplishing a victory that they had never even imagined possible. She argues that our game addicted society needs to dig deeper into games and migrate those experiences to socially responsible behavior transfer. With the opening of broader online audiences facilitated by ultra-portable low power computing devices and insanely fast, low cost digital communication networks, we will see an explosion in the number of people online and playing games over the next decade.
My only concern with McGonigal’s approach – is fiscal. In general we have only seen genuine investment in game technologies that are financial blockbusters. That said, the democratization of game creation is coming as swiftly as it did for most other contemporary techologies. The cost and expertise of creating games online is falling constantly – and as the cost of creation reaches extremely low points, it becomes increasingly viable that we will see ever-larger numbers of game based learning projects focused on social responsibility and leveraging the social networking and game play phenomena that have proven so popular.