Bill and I have been keeping busy lately. Slowly but steadily, the foundation is rising on Project #2. Every now and then, I try to break for a few minutes and focus on something other than code. I find these breaks are beneficial to my sanity. Well... I'm away from Xcode for the moment, so now's as good a time as any to write and/or ramble. Today's subject: philosophy.
Everyone has their own philosophy on games. Many love them. Many merely enjoy them. Many enjoy them, but pretend to hate them. Despite what anyone would have you think, however, nobody actually hates games. At least, that's what I believe. Games are a central part--perhaps THE central part--of the human experience. Life is made up of an infinite web of interlocking games. Indeed, some would say that life in itself is a game.
The problem with the games that make up life is simply that they're not very fun. Nobody designed them (or God designed them, but that's for a different blog). They just came into existence when random elements began to interact. And because they lack design, they're not very well balanced. Perhaps that's why life is so unfair.
Don't worry, I'm not going to spend the rest of this post whining about existential dread and the injustice of the universe. Instead, if you'll sit tight, I'm going to tell you why good game design can make everybody's life better... and maybe just save the world!
There are a lot of very intelligent people out there who believe that games--particularly video games--are a horrendous waste of time. If you'll pardon a thoroughly disjointed segue, consider Fareed Zakaria. I watch a lot of news, and I personally consider Fareed to be one of the few consistently reasonable voices in journalism. Beyond that, the man is brilliant. I wish more people would listen to him. While he has plenty of critics, nobody can deny that Fareed puts a heck of a lot of thought into his analysis. He's insightful, rational, and just plain smart.
I recognize that this clip is already outdated well beyond the point of irrelevance, but whenever I think about smart people who don't like games, I'm constantly reminded of it. "Just imagine what we could have accomplished if that time were spent productively."
He's right, isn't he? Even the most avid gamers will admit that in terms of real-world benefits, their addictions are less than rewarding. Everyone has lost a cousin or a brother-in-law to WoW. And even as we delight in the triumphs of characters from The Guild, we recognize that we are rooting for underdogs who are beyond hopeless. They'll never be leaders... or even net-positive contributors to society. To a world that will soon be buckling under the weight of 9 billion inhabitants, gamers will never offer anything more than a sense of humanity. And they'll cost a whole lot more than they contribute.
Not so fast.
In very recent years, the term gamification has emerged as a buzzword around Silicon Valley. I hate buzzwords, so I'm not going to go into depth to explain it to you. Instead, I'll point you to another outdated clip--this one from Jane McGonigal. She's become a champion for the gamification movement, and her work speaks for itself.
If you don't have time to watch, here's a sentence-long synopsis:
Some brilliantly insane people are experimenting with the idea of making real-world processes more effective by harnessing the rewards and excitement inherent in games.
The games that Jane mentions in the TED Talk are representative of only one aspect of the theory of gamification. She's getting thousands of gamers together to focus on solving major global problems like resource shortages within games. Actually, gamification is a much broader concept that spans many sciences and industries. More recently, gamification has been integrated into things like cars and websites to provide a more positive user experience. It's even being used to fight HIV. And it's finding new applications by the day. In my estimation, we haven't even scratched the surface.
I'll save my spectacular predictions for the future of gamification for another post, but my main point is that games are more important than most intelligent people realize. As we race headlong into an uncharted millennium fraught with crises, it is games--fun games--that cast forth our brightest ray of hope. Or... if you prefer something less hyperbolic, then at least accept that games have productive applications that we're only beginning to uncover.
That's why regardless of philosophy, everyone should love games.