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Jane McGonigal: the future of reality

McGonigal is a game researcher at the institute for the future. Her ethos is that in game-design the human experience is perfectly optimized – we feel we have purpose, we feel we are collaborating and we feel we have a meaning. Why then are other aspects of our online (and for that mater offline) experience not fulfilling all these needs?

Our human cravings are

  1. Satisfying work to do
  2. The experience of being good at something
  3. Time spent with people we like
  4. The chance to be a part of something bigger

McGonigal contends that game designers successfully optimize these cravings. McGonigal humorously compared the relative personal gains to be made between the Burning Man festival and YouTube comments – she utilised the Confucian concept of Jen, or “humanness” to illustrate her point.

So how do games increase our human potential you ask?

  1. They increase our individual participation bandwidth
  2. Create common ground
  3. Build common good

It has been estimated that 100 million mental hours have gone into creating Wikipedia, but the global participation in World of Warcraft could create the same result in five days – how do we utilise that bandwidth for common good?

Why should web participants care about gaming? Or game creation? Because we need to start thinking seriously about how to structure experience to make people happier and to design systems to make people awesome – McGonigal’s contention is that gaming is a successful example of achieving these aims.

McGonigal gave the example of Labyrinth, the game she developed in conjunction with McDonalds at the time of the 2008 summer Olympics in an attempt to give everyone the opportunity to feel like they could engage in and share, with others, the Olympic experience. She introduced her new game “dance off” that she designed to solve her self-admitted “my life sucks” feelings – now her life is awesome because she can dance with folks, once strangers, now friends, on the internet. She also showed “Superstruct” her attempt to enable netizens to take their part in inventing the future – the game brought together 7000 futurists in the space of six weeks – crowdsourcing future think…

She also introduced Signtific Lab, a game created as an experiment for Webstock – attendees were invited to sign up and contribute their ideas… be in to win your very own limited issue Signtific Lab labcoat!