This post is the second in a series that will be for a graduate course called Theory and Audience Analysis. For the course, I will be posting weekly questions and follow-up analysis about the various readings we are assigned.
Jane McGonigal is now getting to the point I hoped should would after reading the first several chapters of “Reality is Broken.” I asked, “What if the philosophy of gaming was brought into reality rather than using games to fulfill these absences in our every day lives? Could we implement goals and feedback systems into our reality?”
Jane answered, “It’s high time we start applying lessons of games to the design of our everyday lives.”
“Excellent,” I thought. This is the concept I really wanted to explore, to see how gaming ideas could be implemented to create a better world. However, after reading about Alternate Reality Games [like Chore Wars – a game to encourage people to make a competition out of daily chores, Quest to Learn – a charter school in New York that teaches in the setting of a giant game, and SuperBetter – a game created by McGonigal to overcome an extreme concussion], I am less enthused about seeing games become a part of everyday life.
I think McGonigal makes too many assumptions about how people react to and feel about games. She generalizes the positive aspects of gaming as an idea that will work for everyone. These are “fixes” to a broken reality she says. What about those of us who wouldn’t get enjoyment out of making everyday tasks into games? To some simply participating in a game like Chore Wars would feel like more of a hassle then just doing the chores when we can. Honest communication with living partners and delegating duties might not be fun buzzwords, but they are efficient and work for many without dampening their view of reality.
Maybe it is just the realist in me, but the idea of a Quest to Learn school raises several red flags. The construct of secret missions and beating Boss levels may motivate sixth grade students, but what about when the students reach high school and start to assert more independence? When you want the world to start seeing you as more grown up, it seems reasonable to think many students would become impatient or feel they have out grown the games. What about when they enter the workforce or college and they find the outside world isn’t structured in this game environment?
After reading about Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), the lasting impressions I had were of two novels: George Orwell’s “1984” and Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” Trilogy. Where is the line between collective gaming, like the Halo 3 quest to get 10 billion kills, and groupthink? What happens when an ARG becomes too entwined with reality? What about when the wrong person or group is in control of the rules? Maybe I have too much of a doomsday attitude about this, but the idea of imposing arbitrary rules on our lives so that we can have more “fun” playing a game, isn’t an idea that fills me with anticipation.
Also glaringly absent thus far from McGonigal’s book is reference to people who don’t play by the rules? Every society has them: rule breakers, people who try to subvert the system, go against the grain. If you have too many, it can take the fun out of any game. If one roommate in Chore Wars starts lying about doing tasks or gives up on logging tasks, the whole game falls through. Then not only are you left with the reality of doing chores the regular way, you have the added disappointment of a failed game. Humans aren’t computer programs ready for action whenever you turn on the console. A video game is always prepared, always follows its rules, and never flakes. These are aspects that makes game appealing and consistent. If we can’t expect the same from even our closest friends, family, coworkers and classmates, then how well will a real-life game actually work? How long will it last?