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…

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.

Fans making games

As a class, we’re playing Gamestar Mechanic, a game that teaches how to build games. I just picked up LittleBigPlanet 2, which is a game that also provides in-game tools for building games. Echochrome, one of my favorite puzzle games, comes with tools for players to build their own levels.

My friend Dr. Anastasia Salter writes and teaches about games. In her paper “‘Once more a kingly quest’: Fan games and the classic adventure genre”, she discusses fanmade remakes of games like the King’s Quest games, Maniac Mansion, and others. Here’s the paper’s abstract (you can read the whole thing online at Transformative Works and Cultures):

[0.1] Abstract—The classic adventure games—part of the earliest traditions of interactive narrative—have not disappeared, although they no longer occupy space on the shelves at the local computer store. Even as changing hardware and operating systems render these games of the 1980s and 1990s literally unplayable without emulating the computer systems of the past, fans are keeping these stories alive. Authorship of these games has changed hands: it is now under the control of the fans, the former and current players. Through the online sharing of fan-created game design tool sets and of the fan-created games themselves, these new coauthors create a haven to revisit these decades-old games using fresh eyes and fresh systems. The products of these folk art–reminiscent efforts also offer a venue to reconsider video game fandom in light of genres. They also allow us to understand these “personal games,” productions of one or more people that are not intended for commercial sale, as carrying the heritage of the classic era forward into the next generation of gaming.

Between games that teach games and the availability of tools for gamers to make their own games from scratch, people are not only growing up video games but also with the ability and tools to build their own. So as you’re working on making your games in Gamestar Mechanic, what are your thoughts about gamers as game makers?

FIFA: Soccer Sucks, So Why Are You So Good?

Soccer is not my thing…really, its not.  Lets just say that the highlight of my 5 year soccer career (I was a goalie when I was much younger) was saving a would-be goal by the best player in the league by being afraid of the ball, turning around, and saving it with the back of my head.  Being American hasn’t given me a burning desire to follow soccer because no one really cares about soccer here anyway.  Needless to say, I don’t watch soccer, don’t play soccer, and am bored out of my mind whenever its on TV.

So why am I so addicted to FIFA?  I started playing FIFA 2010 at the start of first semester, and it has been a revelation.  For one reason or another, I am intrigued by controlling little animated soccer players march up and down the field.  Seeing this game played prior to actually playing it personally, I knew that it was going to be fast-paced and would lead to some friendly competition with my roommates.  My distaste for soccer stopped me from playing initially, as I spurned the idea of playing a soccer game.  However, once I started, I couldn’t get enough.

So how can this phenomenon be explained?  Perhaps James Paul Gee would explain my enjoyment of playing the game through the notion of a “projective identity”.  But how could this possibly be the case!?  I hate soccer, so it would be inconceivable that I would relate to the players who I was controlling based on the fact that they are soccer players.  Maybe my study abroad experience in Barcelona had something to do with it (I always play as Barcelona, the best team in the game), but it seems as though there must be something else at play.

After sitting through the lectures so far this semester, I have been able to look deeper into my video game experiences and think critically about why I enjoy the games I like playing and what I could potentially learn from playing.  I know that I definitively learned the basic rules of soccer (I was always befuddled by off-sides calls) as well as strategies soccer players can employ in order to get into better position to score.  This game has really driven my interest in learning the rules of soccer and has allowed me to realize the intricacies of the game.  I now enjoy playing FIFA more then any other sport game even though soccer is my least favorite sport.  I attribute this to the fact that most of my friends play FIFA and if I want to play a video game with them that we would all enjoy, that would be the game they would choose.

>Getting destroyed for my first 15 games or so was pretty frustrating, but now I have advanced to the point in the game that I can play with my friends and enjoy the friendly competition.  I still don’t particularly care for soccer, but I know that I learned more about the sport then I ever anticipated.

AbleGamers Website

AbleGamers is a site and nonprofit organization focused on gamers with disabilities. The site offers news, reviews, discussion boards and much more.  Lots of great information and posts including the site’s 2010 review and this recent post, written by an 8th grader, titled “Learning about Accessible Video Games.”

Motion Games: The Future of Video Games???

As someone that has been playing video games from a very young age, I have seen the NHL games of Sega Genesis all the way up to the Madden games of the Wii. However, this new movement in the video game world is something that I find very troubling.

When the Wii first came out, it was a revolutionary idea. People could actually move around and play video games while their character on the screen would mimic their every physical move. This was the coolest thing for me: I could play baseball or bowl by actually imitating the motion.

Sadly, as I enter Best Buy or Target now a days, I have seen (as I am sure many of you have) that Xbox, PS3, and other future gaming systems have picked up on this motion idea.

I would like to pose 2 questions:

1) Does this influx of motion on gaming systems spell the end for something like the Wii? Personally, I think the Wii will remain a leader in the motion-gaming world because it has a more family-friendly focus than the other systems. However, the violent games do tend to tell so more so Nintendo may need to up the ante.

2) Is this the future of video games? Are we about to be freed of the joystick and circle, triangle, and square buttons and ushered into the world of the nunchuck? Furthermore, could things like a Mii and other types of Avatar just replace human interaction altogether (think the movie Surrogates). I feel that bowling alleys, parks, or any other form of entertainment could take a hit the same way Blockbuster and Hollywood Video did with the Netflix explosion because why go play outside when you could play the game in front of a TV?
Please comment back because I would like to hear some feedback on this as I know there are many schools of thought on this issue. See everyone tomorrow!

The 7 Commandments All Video Games Should Obey

Here’s an article that talks about good videogames and what content they should avoid. There’s a lot of good examples of games that fall into these “sins,” so they may be games you want to avoid (especially if you’re still choosing your semester game).

Video Games Since 1985

I saw this only a couple hours after class today and found it interesting. I’ve only played a couple of the games (Super Mario Bros and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?). Classics and maybe good choices!

Resources for Free Games

Check this out…free online games! Some of these may even be appropriate for class. I’m particularly interested in Kongregate: kind of a social network/gaming platform.

Video Game selection

Having troubles deciding what game to play for the semester?  I’d recommend taking a look at these roundup of the best games of 2010: (the editor’s choices) (the readers’ choices)

A lot of these games are available through Steam, a quick and easy download and game management tool.  So… you don’t even have to go out to the store to buy a copy, and you can redownload it onto any computer, forever.

If you know of other good lists like this, feel free to reply and post them!


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