Friday, March 30, 2007

To the man who stole my favorite things

Dear 30 year old thug who jacked my suitcase on the train last night,

I woke up still feeling very sad and sick about the loss of my things. Sad, because those things had tremendous personal value to me. Sick, I guess because that's what it feels like to be a victim of crime, sort of violated, and because other people saw him steal the bag and didn't stop him.

Kiyash drove me to the train stop where yougot off and we found some of my things stuff in a trash can and other things scattered on the sidewalk like trash. Not all of my things, not even most of my things, although I was relieved to get back a few of my things. But you took a lot of things that mattered.

You stole the stack of business cards I collected at Etech this week, many from people I met playing Werewolf and would really like to know and talk to again. Maybe the people I met at Etech will read this and email me instead (jane at the name of this blog dot com) so they don't think I am blowing them off.

The suitcase was full of clothing I picked for a week's trip that I was really excited about. Favorite things. Favorite shoes, favorite jewelry, favorite dresses, favorite makeup. My favorite things.... I guess it's not such a hardship to lose favorite things. As Kiyash said, "you're safe, that's the most important thing. "It totally is the most important thing. I guess I am feeling mostly sorry for myself in that third-person way, the way you would feel sad for a close friend. I can see myself third-person style picking out all my favorite things to pack, not knowing that I would be using them all for the last time. Like feeling sad for a character in a short story. "Self-vicarious-empathy", perhaps.

I have no idea what you are going to do with my my black patent leather heels, favorite black shift dress, my MAC cosmetics, a stack of World Without Oil postcards, Institute for the Future business cards, and a bag of Etech swag.

I guess I will keep my out eye in Richmond for a cross-dressing thug tech geek promoting alternate reality games.

I do wonder who you are and what your life is like that you have to resort to stealing bags off trains. I realize I am very lucky that I am not living that life. You hurt me by stealing my things. But I couldn't possible take it personally, really. Yes, it's a pain that I have to spend my day going around replacing everyday things like cell phone chargers and contact lenses. But it's fine, because I also have a dog and a husband and work I love and enough money that I dont' have to steal things.

I gave a talk at Etech this week about the science of happiness, and the different classes of happiness, and how alternate reality games have been helping people experience the world differently by learning those classes. The very strange thing about having my favorite things stolen last night is that I feel ARGs have taught me to see what happened in a different way. Not as a personal interaction between me and the thief, but rather as an exchange in a bigger system involving massively multiple people who COULD have been affected. I appreciate that the man who stole my bag was going to steal someone's bag, and perhaps the other people's bags in the system (the train) were more important to them and their week than mine was. I was returning from a trip; it would be much worse to have a bag stolen at the start of a trip, in a strange city, with no belongings whatsoever. And maybe other people's bags had more important or irreplaceable stuff than mine. Maybe I'm in a better position than the other people with bags are to deal with this, to replace lost items (I'm not completely broke) or to get emotional support after being robbed (I have a great husband who was waiting to meet me at my station.)

So by letting my bag serve as the Stolen Bag, I was saving someone else the grief of losing things. So at least a little part of me is okay about it. I appreciate the opportunity to be the one to take the hit here. I am framing this experience as an opportunity to prevent other people from having suffered, and accepting that maybe I was the best person on that train to have their luggage stolen. This is totally a way of thinking that relates to MMOs for me.

P.S. Also missing: the small diamond on my antique art nouveau engagement ring. I still have the setting, which dates to 1896. It looks very strange with the diamond popped out, a big empty setting. I am glad I will have the chance to refill it someday. I am sad about that, but Kiyash said not to be too sad. And I agree. Losing material things, even sentimental ones, just isn't that big a deal in the big picture.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Live from Etech - my keynote on Happiness Hacking

I just finished my Etech keynote "Creating Alternate Realities - what the new game designers know about improving quality of life." Yay! It was a totally new presentation, created this week from scratch, and so I was a bit nervous about debuting it. I am happy that it was very well-received.

Here's the abstract:

This talk will explore what the new game designers know about improving everyday quality of life, and how non-gaming companies can become a part of the solution. Alternate reality game designers are solving problems that other technology companies have yet to discover. Cutting-edge collaborative, reality-based games are addressing a whole new set of social needs and personal desires, individual challenges, and collective wants. But games are not the only way to meet these needs and desires. In this talk, McGonigal explores how other technology products, services, and brands can capitalize on the key signal - a desire for a life more worth living - that is coming out of the most innovative game genres.

My slides are here. I'll have a webpage with links and references up on my Avant Game site on Friday. (Here it is - references for Hacking Happiness!) In the meantime, here is the text from my four favorite slides to give you a sense of the stakes and claims of the talk!

3 things you need to know about me:
1) I’m a hacker. I hack the real world to be more like a game. (that’s what I mean by creating alternate realities)
2) I think a lot about the future. What are today’s game trying to tell us about tomorrow?
3) I’m an existentialist. I identify with Sisyphus. My primary goal is to reduce human suffering.

The future forecast (Think: 2012)
Quality of life is the primary metric for evaluating everyday technologies
Positive psychology is a principal, explicit influence on design
The public expects tech companies to have a clear vision for a life worth living
To succeed, a brand, product or service, must increase real happiness – the new capital

Do our technologies pass the “deathbed test”?
“Though we must live our lives forward, happiness is gained by assessing it backwards. Only on your deathbed can you see your life complete and so judge its happiness.” – ancient Greek wisdom
How will the time spent with our technologies look in retrospect, when our users are on their deathbeds? What kind of life will they have enabled, afforded, or supported?

An ETech’07 call to action:
Invest a portion of your time, energy and resources towards understanding and innovating happiness. It’s the new capital.
Make your technology not only feel good (more pleasure), but also do good (more engagement)and expose good (more meaning).
Build your brand's culture around quality of life.
Together we can hack our everyday reality into a collective life worth living.
Hack Happiness!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Top 10 List is In! Game Studies Download 2007

The top 10 academic research findings about digital games are now available for your review.

This list was compiled by Ian Bogost, Mia Consalvo, and myself. Our criteria:

-novel questions are asked
-surprising results are found
-direct relevance to the design and development of digital games

Topics covered this year include the importance of humor in dark or violent games and opportunities to design death better in multi-player games.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Future of Collective Play (report on GDC keynote)

Yesterday I gave my Research + Design keynote at GDC on the topic of "The Future of Collective Play."

CNET has a great summary of the talk in "Future games to harness gamers' collective wisdom".

Rather than posting complete notes from the talk here myself, I'll just excerpt from the intro and point to the online slides in a day or so from this blog:

Today, I’m going to talk to you about the future of collective play. By "future of collective play", I mean two things: first, the new kinds of collaborative games we might pioneer over the next decade, and second: the real-world future we might build for ourselves by playing more collectively.

Last fall, I left my position as lead designer at 42 Entertainment, a commercial game development company, to become the resident game designer for the Institute for the Future— an independent nonprofit research group based in Palo Alto. As a result, I am now officially the first person in the world to claim in my daily job description that “I design games from the future.” But, what exactly does it mean to design games from the future?

At the Institute, we develop long-term future forecasts to help companies, government agencies, and private foundations make better decisions today about the uncertain future. We create detailed, plausible, and internally consistent scenarios of how important emerging trends today might intersect and play out over the next decade. So, as the Institute’s new resident game designer, I spend a lot of time these days thinking about two questions: First, how are the specific kinds of games we choose to design and to play today most likely to impact our future culture? And second, what kinds of games will we need to play in the future in order to learn whatever social, technological, and organization skills emerge as the guiding principles of global culture?

Today, I’m going to argue that over the next ten years, a particular kind of digital game-- the massively collaborative puzzle genre known as alternate reality gaming -- will become increasingly important as both a way to imagine and engineer a best-case scenario future. Alternate reality gaming will also assume the role of a central cultural activity teaches and trains us to be successful and ethical actors in a global, networked culture--particulary as that culture is increasingly chaotic, democratic, commercial and cooperative.

So the problem I want to consider today is this: Can a computer game teach collective intelligence? I believe the answer to this question is absolutely, yes—and moreover, I believe that collective intelligence is the single most important thing we can be teaching through serious games as we attempt to build a better future, and to prepare for its uncertain challenges. Of course, this problem begs several additional questions: namely, why should we care about teaching collective intelligence? Who should be taught CI? How, exactly, does an alternate reality game teach CI? And, finally, what kind of future will we shape by playing alternate reality games?

[Come back in a couple days for the slides for the rest of the talk!]

Monday, March 05, 2007

Erasing the delta: Games that alter reality!

Here are my notes for my first Game Developers Conference talk, as part of a serious games summit panel on “Erasing the Delta - Games that Accomplish a Specific Task” The theme of the panel is about moving away from games that just prepare you to do something (learning/training games), or help you think about something (simulation games, persuasive games) and games that actually enable and indeed require you to do that thing, or to produce that thing, simply by playing them (games that work).

(Fellow ARG travelers Brian Clark and Brooke Thompson were there -- yay! we are so totally going to alter reality through play...)

(UPDATE: There's nothing that makes me post-talk happier than when multiple different communities take away ideas they're excited by. So I'm happy to see, for instance, some great responses to the talk at MTV, ARGN, and Destructoid!)

My spiel follows:

Erasing the Delta Gap is really about two different practices:

Making a new kind of serious game: Games that are designed as functions with an end result that is a measurable difference in the present state of reality. Serious games now are viewed as “resources” (for education, training, instruction, simulation) or “platforms” (for messages, persuasion). We must start to create serious games as “generative processes” or “solutions to problems”

Redefining what we define as a “serious impact”: We must move away from “preparation” and “knowledge” and “skills” and “rhetorical effect” as our only serious impacts. We can also consider for example “improved quality of life” and “better health” and “improved social organization” and “future resources produced”. In these terms, many games are already closing the delta gap, particularly in the area of health -- if we think of something like “reducing human suffering” as a serious impact (games for pre-surgery sedation) or intervening into the obesity epidemic (physical activity games) or, in the future, things like serving as a live suicide prevention resource (instead of calling 1 800 suicide) or facilitating global security through youth cooperation and co-immersion
So: What is the role of Alternate Reality Games in erasing the delta?

The new opportunities for ARGs to do work is best understood as a movement through different definitions of “realism” in gameplay

Realism in ARGs
1st wave ARGs: they’re so real! Real Life (embedded in real, working life): operational, everyday technologies, intimate
2nd wave ARGs, they’re so real! Real World (moving into real-world spaces): social, physical, face to face, everyday spaces, public
3rd wave ARGs, they’re so real! Real Impact (starting to solve real-world problems, for example: global relations/world peace, massively multiplayer science, quality of life, learning): intentional, effective. Games that alter reality!

Two factors that make this third wave possible:

Our culture is becoming more ARGlike (CI culture, participatory Web culture/2.0, creative commons, science commons)

Our culture WANTS to be more ARGlike (the spirit of massive collaboration saving the world)

Examples of ARGs that start to erase the delta:
Past - Tombstone Hold ‘Em – putting live bodies back in cemeteries, creating a public culture for a dying public space
Present - World Without Oil – generating a massively collaborative map of potential, citizen responses to oil shock; constructing a database of lower-consumption practices that might prevent that shock from happening
Future - Massively Multiplayer Science – games with real scientific data embedded in them, and gameplay to collect, analyze and process the data in massive parallel