Friday, February 22, 2008

"Reality is Broken" - My GDC Rant

Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

Below is the introduction to my Game Designer’s Rant, which I delivered at the Game Developers Conference today. It was really well-received, which I'm happy about. ^_^

The GDC Rant, where typically high-profile game designers and developers get to yell and scream about whatever they want, is pretty much my favorite panel of GDC every year. So being invited to be on the rant – along with Clint Hocking, Chris Hecker, Daniel James, Jenova Chen, and Jon Mak -- was such a delight, and a big honor. I was so happy giving this talk. Between this intro, the conclusion, and the slides, you’ll get a good idea of what I was ranting about.

You can download the slides here: Jane McGonigal's 2008 GDC Rant: "Reality is Broken"

[INTRO] I’m not here to rant about game designers. I’m mad, but I’m not mad at game designers. I think that compared to the rest of the world, game designers pretty much have it all figured out. We’ve invented a medium that kicks every other medium’s ass. As game designers, we own more emotional bandwidth, we occupy more brain cycles, and we make more people happy than any other platform or content in the world. And if you don’t already believe that, if you don’t realize that we’ve already won, then you’re not paying attention to the staggering amount of time, energy, money and passion that gamers all over the world pour into our games every single day.

So why why have we won? Because as an industry, we’ve spent the last 30 years learning how to optimize human experience. We know that our brains are made for playing games. Recently, some of us have remembered that our bodies are made for playing games. And we’ve always known that our hearts are made for playing games. So as an industry, we’ve spent three whole decades figuring out how to engineer systems that fully engage our brains, and our bodies, and our hearts. And we’ve pretty much solved that problem – or, at least, our solutions are working better than other designed experience on the planet. So our systems work better than anything anyone else is making to engage human beings. And as a result, the way I see it, right now, we basically rule the world.

That’s the good news. But the problem is, we don’t rule the real world. For the most part, we rule the virtual world, because it’s easier to optimize experience in a world entirely of our own making. The fact is the real world is too f’ed up, it’s too broken, we don’t want to deal with it. So right now, pretty much every one of our games works better than reality, because we are the best designers of human experience, and we’re applying all of our talent, all our insight to optimizing virtual experience. And you know what? That needs to end, starting today.

[START SLIDES] My rant is about the fact that reality is fundamentally broken, and we have a responsibility as game designers to fix it, with better algorithms and better missions and better feedback and better stories and better community and everything else we know how to make. We have a responsibility as the smartest people in the world, the people who understand how to make systems that make people feel engaged, successful, happy, and completely alive, and we have the knowledge and the power to invent systems that make reality work better. We have the responsibility to take what we’ve learned as an industry over the past 30 years and start making everyday life more like our games. [



Can we fix it? Yes. We have the technology and the knowledge. Should we fix it? Hell yes. We have the power AND the responsibility. That doesn’t mean we should stop making escapist games. We need to make escapist games, there will always be a need to escape, and frankly, that’s how we’re going to learn more about what works, about how to engage brains and bodies and hearts. But will we fix it? Honestly, I have no idea. I have no idea how many of you are sitting there thinking I’m completely nuts, or worse, that I just don’t get it, that games are for having fun, that they don’t have to be real, they don’t have to fix anything. They’re games, isn’t that enough?

Well, I don’t think that it’s enough. We make the games, we have the knowledge, and we have the power. We can take what we’ve learned by making games and apply it to reality, to make real life work more like a game – not make our games more realistic and lifelike, but make our real life more game like – so that when people all over the world wake up every morning, they wake up with a mission, with allies, with a sense of being a part of a bigger story, part of a system that wants them to be happy. We can do it, we should do it, and I hope that we will do it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Top 10 List of 2008 Game Research Findings is Live!

Hello from the Game Developers Conference -- my favorite, favorite, favorite event of the year!

Ian Bogost, Mia Consalvo, and I just gave our annual top 10 game studies download -- a quickfire tour of the ten most interesting and surprising research findings about games and game players from the past year.

Our Game Studies Download 3.0 slides our live!

You can also check out the references and previous lists for the Game Studies Download.

On Friday, I rant @ GDC -- about how reality is broken, and why game designers need to fix it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Smart people are thinking out loud about "the audience"

Originally uploaded by golanlevin.
After being humiliated on a Disney mini golf course by Ze Frank, I had no choice but to spill my design guts for his latest mini-project: a loosely curated collection of digital artists' and designers' thoughts on "audience".

Here are the questions he posed to folks like Jonathan Coulton, Imogen Heap, Ji Lee, and myself:

"When you make things with an audience in mind, do you have internal representations of that audience to help guide you in the process? Are you in dialogue with a cast of proto-audience members that somehow represent different facets of your perceived audience? Are there little homunculi that provide
editorial voices different from your own? Do you interact with them verbally or do you bounce things off of some sort of an emotional surface? Did some sort of averaging form them or were they inspired by particular moments of feedback? Do they have a shape? How would you describe their points of view? What do they look like? Do they have names? Are there ones you trust more than others? Are there ones you avoid?"

:: Ze

Kudos to to Ze for getting so many folks to think out loud so openly about such a personal process. Plus, bonus smart thoughts from 84 community comments and counting...

The answers (including my own) are ridiculously honest. Here are some excerpts from my rather lengthy response, which I wrote stream-of-consciousness style on the Caltrain and submitted completely unedited:

My players are like little actors I watch through a telescope, or, no, a camera obscura. Definitely a camera obscura. They’re like shadows on a stretchy screen, people I can’t observe directly, but rather I am observing them through some contorted gathering and refracting of light. This makes sense because in my mind
I’m observing them in the future interacting with my game, which doesn’t exist yet, so it feels very fragile, the scene, and my ability to see it play out....

...There are specific actors in the camera obscura scenes, a kind of dramatis personae that gets bigger every time I puppet master a game. I’m basically gathering up the “star players”, the ones who explored and pushed every limit of the experience, who intimately grokked the goals of the game, who lived in the game with an intensity I could barely even hope for in the best case scenario. And I have been collecting these actors, these players, into an increasingly large and diverse dramatis personae since the first reality game I wrote in 2001. ....

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The X2 Club -- massively multiplayer science is on the way!

Next week, I'll be in Irvine presenting the beta version of the X2 Club, my first massively multiplayer science game. I've been developing it with an amazing team of researchers and designers at the Institute for the Future. The game is part of IFTF's larger collective intelligence project on the future of science and technology .

The X2 Club (you can read about the original X Club here) is an an alternate reality game, light on fiction and heavy on real-world data, that scientists will play. The game interface looks like a kind of cross between wikipedia and Bloomberg terminals. It combines collaborative forecasting (World Without Oil-style) and prediction markets with RSS feeds of scientific journals and popular science publications.

It's hard to believe that just a year ago, almost to the day, that I was first pitching the idea of MMS games at the annual AAAS meeting. Only 12 months from totally weird idea to beta version, ready to playtest with a network of scientists and graduate students from the U.S., the UK, Austria, Germany, China, Singapore, India... that was fast!

If you want to know more, an early description of the X2 Club game is in Seed Magazine this month; they asked me to write an essay about massively multiplayer science for their special issue on The Universe in 2008.*

*I'm very proud that the X2 Club shares the page with Will Wright's Spore project -- which finally has a release date for September! yay!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Cookie Rolling in St. Charles!

february08 052
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
It was a snowy cookie rolling adventure in St. Charles, Illinois.

This was definitely one of the most satisfying cookie rolling adventures ever. The snowy backdrop combined with an unusual statue made for some of the most dramatic and playful cookie rolling photos to date.

Special thanks to my cookie rolling collaborator Bob, who thought of this location AND procured the locally baked ginger snap cookies for me!