McGonigal TED Talk

To compliment the great post below (perfect timing!), I wanted to add Jane McGonigal’s TED talk where she discusses how gaming can improve in the near future.  For anyone that is unfamiliar with TED, it is a series of lectures ranging from artistic demonstrations to highly technical science research with person’s world renowned in their respective fields.  The talks are usually brief and extremely interesting.  How often, besides every Tuesday-Thursday of course, do we get to listen to a brilliant lecture? Check out this link to hear what McGonigal has to say.

Jeffery Sachs, Video Games and Social Change

Here is an interesting read on Jeffrey Sachs’s (Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University) stance on social change as we evolve to meet the standards of the future.  Sachs was recently at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy to discuss ‘Sustainable Development Politics, Policy and Priorities.”  Here is a link to the original blog post, where a video of his speech can be seen…

http://www.nextbillion.net/blog/2011/01/17/-jeffery-sachs-video-games-and-social-change?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+NextBillion%2Fblog+%28NextBillion.net+-+Development+Through+Enterprise%29

Through his discussion of economic convergence, Sachs pointed out concerns over future population and economic growth, specifically way in which current economic models neglect to consider boundary constraints in development. For instance, these models should take into account the available technological capacity to support economic and population growth. Sachs demonstrated through his discussion that not only do we have a very good idea of the environmental thresholds of the planet, (Rockstrom et al, Nature Magazine Sept. 23, 2009 “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity”) but we also have many technologies available to make the appropriate changes to reverse and/or prevent future damage.

This lecture ended with what I felt was just the beginning of another discussion, one which focused on the national sentiment toward climate change and environmental policy. By and large, as cited by Sachs from the Pew Research Center’s survey on climate change, certain societal groups within the United States have moved away from the belief that human activity is a primary cause of global warming and that global warming is a result of natural climate change. This may not be new news, however, it does bring up the point that in order for large social change with implications for poverty alleviation to occur, there must be a certain degree of social/political will involved.

The issue deepens when considered in the context of today’s society or perhaps more importantly, tomorrow’s society. In a recent interview on the NPR program, “On the Media,” program host Brooke Gladstone interviewed Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games, a game design and development studio. Schell said he sees changes in society this way:  “… the twenty-first century is going to be a war on the attention of humanity; where a civilization focuses its attention, that’s what defines what the civilization cares about.” The connection to Sachs’ discussion of environmental change and sustainability is direct: How can we maintain purposeful and productive interest in sustainable development practices within a population, society and world that is growing exponentially and moving from one new activity to another at an increasing pace?

The discussion with Schell during “On the Media” focused on the integration of meaning and purpose into video games. This idea was discussed as an opportunity to engage a specific population with a unique skill set (i.e., gamers) in work solving larger societal issues. The suggestion of Schell and Jane McGonigal, who also is interviewed toward the end of the program, is to engage the millions of gamers who already operate in collaborative environments, in tasks that are relevant to today’s issues, thus potentially translating their behavior/skill sets into real-life contexts. Video gamers represent a large population of individuals who are simulating life experiences while also developing practical skills such as decision making and task management, usually performing these tasks at once. McGonigal goes so far as to list traits of gamers that make them prime candidates for future meaning-infused gaming and an unprecedented human resource for problem solving. These qualities include:

  1. Urgent optimism: Desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope for success
  2. Ability to weave a tight social fabric: Building up trust, spending time with individuals, developing bonds and working toward social cooperation.
  3. Blissful productivity: We are happier working hard than when we are relaxing if we are given the right work.
  4. Epic meaning: Attached to awe-inspiring missions and innovations and working to create information resources that help us to understand our world better.

All of these elements, McGonigal argues, add up to the belief of many gamers that they are individually capable of changing their virtual world (Listen to her TED talk here). The remaining issue is then to transfer this energy from the satisfaction of online gaming communities to real-life issues like Sachs’ description of environmental sustainability and poverty alleviation. McGonigal’s argument, and Schell’s for the most part, both center on the realization that gamers don’t feel the same way about solving problems in real life as they do in game settings. Their objective is to catalyze the problem-solving capacity of this population into new circumstances that are socially relevant.

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