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One-Liner: All You Need is Love on Game and Player

One-Liner: All You Need is Love

Michael Ubaldi  //  February 7, 2011

Is gaming the active ingredient for a panacea?


y suspicion of Jane McGonigal and her electro-recreational Coueism deserves a more thorough explanation, but suffice to say the latest appearance of the thumbstick evangelist — on no less than The Colbert Report — moved me to comment.

McGonigal, who has fused a resume of game design with the obscure pursuit of "games research" and an office in the equally abstract Institute for the Future, maintains that video games are so beneficial that through simple exposure to — or collectivist management of — the medium, world-spanning scientific, medical and political problems often defying even categorization can otherwise be solved.

The premise from which she travels to here, however, is not as innocuous: McGonigal counts hours played, then considers how much more productive that investment could be were it directed in some way, implying that gamers presently contribute nothing of significance when they pull the plug. Is she so certain that none are entrepreneurs, scientists, teachers, artists, soldiers or sailors, cops or firemen, or even local volunteers? Must they be shepherded for their work to count? For that matter, how does her claim of confidence-building projection square with online multiplayer's better-known exploitation of anonymity?

Won't heroes be heroes and cowards be cowards? The answer, for me, is that life — real life — is the first and most important factor in character, which video games may magnify or multiply, but only ever reflect. What do you think?

Ed Kirchgessner // February 7, 2011 // 10:42 AM

Hey! I've figured out the cure to world hunger! All we have to do is give people more FOOD.

Yeah, it would have been nice to see Ms. McGonigal back up a few of her claims with - what are those called? Oh, that's right - facts. The only game I've ever played which compelled me to cooperate with strangers was Final Fantasy XI. That was a game from a simpler time, and an experience that I don't see repeating itself anytime soon. For me, gaming may enhance established relationships, but it rarely fosters new ones.

As an aside: isn't it great that Colbert and Stewart are now on Hulu? Cable television: more irrelevant by the second.

Michael Ubaldi // February 7, 2011 // 10:54 AM

Ed, you fool, the answer has lain in Root Beer Tapper and Burger Time!

Adam K. Bogert // February 7, 2011 // 3:51 PM

I'm sure McGonigal goes too far often enough, but in her defense, much of her position stems from experience in research on collective intelligence. I read through quite a bit of her work in dealing with a case study on the "I Love Bees" campaign and I would have to agree that the right kind of game can generate the sort of outside-the-box thinking and cooperation that are necessary for solving some of the world's biggest problems. Whether a game can be constructed that has solving world hunger as an outcome -- that's much thinner ice to tread.

I would also agree that, for the most part, gamers DO fail to contribute anything to the world while playing; those who play for sheer entertainment are NOT asking what they can do for their community, but asking what the community can do for them. A game which had real-life, prosocial elements would obviously be a more productive expenditure of the hours spent playing games than one in which the only tangible product is gamerscore. Her implication is not that gamers are useless -- it's that gaming, in and of itself, is generally a do-nothing machine which pulls otherwise intelligent minds out of the real world and has them solving fictional problems rather than real ones. Their adeptness at such tasks, coupled with research gathered in ARGs such as ILB, certainly lends itself to the suggestion.

I fault McGonigal not for saying something stupid so much as stating the obvious and then failing to offer a tangible solution -- like, say, an example of a game or game type which could be channeled into the sort of radical results she's seeking to attain.

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