“The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.”
When I was born, there were no personal computers, no Internet, no cell-phones, no Wikipedia, no Google, no web-sites, no blogs and no Facebook. It is difficult to understand how anybody could communicate effectively or get much done at all.
Today is my 44th birthday and the world has changed completely. I am in awe of the technological inventions that have occurred in my lifetime, and I am amazed to see how my kids absorb all this technology into their lives as if thousands of years of evolution had prepared their brains for this.
The next couple of decades will likely see even bigger changes than I have seen in my lifetime. One of these changes may be the gamification of life. Not only are we likely to see people spend much more time in increasingly sophisticated virtual worlds, but we will probably also see game features break out of the virtual world and enter every part of our real lives.
Jane McGonigal, a game designer and researcher at the Institute for the Future, thinks this is a good thing. Indeed, she has calculated that we should be increasing the number of hours spent playing from 3 to 21 billion hours per week if we want to survive the next century on this planet. Here is her brilliant TED talk explaining how games make us better persons.
Education is the most obvious area for massive gamification over the next decade or so, as children are designed to learn through games and play. With the amazing technological capabilities we now have available (as evidenced by massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft and FarmVille), I can’t believe teachers are still writing endless phrases on the blackboard, requiring the kids to copy and memorize them.
I personally disliked history classes in school, but I warmed considerably to the topic when reading Ken Follett’s amazing books (The Pillars of the Earth, etc.) and I am sure I would absolutely love the topic if I learned it through a massively multiplayer online game, where I could interact with historical characters and try to influence history. Being immersed in a topic through a game is surely a better way to learn things than copying abstract sentences from a blackboard.
Absolutely everything can be made fun through games and gamification: One of the most boring activities I can think of is to help other people solve their programming problems, yet stackoverflow.com has managed to make thousands of people solve millions of programming problems for free, by turning the task into a “game” where you can earn reputation and karma by solving difficult and important programming problems. Foldit has made thousands of ordinary people work on protein folding to help develop cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s and HIV/AIDS. With a little creativity you can also get people to throw their garbage in the trash can, use stairs instead of escalators, and reduce speeding. The topic is clearly not important. Some of the most successful games of the last few years are about relatively boring work like farming (FarmVille, Farm Frenzy), waitressing (Diner Dash), and child care (Nanny Mania). It is the game thinking and game mechanics behind the activities that make all the difference.
If we can harness the power of games, we can make work dramatically more satisfying, we can modernize our antiquated education systems, we can direct creativity toward solving the world’s most serious problems, and we can engage and connect people who currently feel excluded due to physical, psychological or economic disadvantages. We can also limit our tendency to buy ever increasing amounts of stuff just to show off, as there will be other much more interesting ways of showing status in a gamified world. In summary, through games and gamification we can potentially fix most of what is wrong with the world at the moment, and growing older doesn’t sound nearly as terrifying in a gamified world.
Do you think gaming can help make a better world? Or are they just a distraction? Leave a reply below.