This year I had the distinct pleasure of attending South by Southwest again. Two real standouts for me from the 2008 Interactive Conference were the Opening Remarks wherein Steve Johnson interviews Henry Jenkins, and the closing Keynote by Jane McGonigal.
Here are links so you can listen to them yourself: Henry Jenkins & Steve Johnson; Jane McGonigal part 1 and Jane part 2. These are videos and don’t include the entire speeches. I had found the full audio of the entire Henry Jenkins & Steve Johnson conversation online, but now I can’t find it anymore. Please let me know if you know where it is and I will post the link here. As well, you’ll likely enjoy his blog, HenryJenkins.org.
Here is my take on what they said with my thoughts interspersed. Henry is brilliant, joyful and a smart, informed optimist. He comes from such a great perspective on things. He is very interested in fan culture and he loves participatory culture. Of course it seems obvious to those of us with experience online that fan culture is a good thing to be cultivated, but lots of companies still come down on fans for infringing copyright, etc. Something Henry talked about is the difference between Hillary Clinton’s numerous I/You statements vs. Obama’s We statements. The conversation online is very much a We conversation. We pool ideas, share language and we’re building something together. What do We want to build, where do We want to go, etc. He speaks out for parents giving kids power over their voice and at the same time taking responsibility that they’re safe as they move into the world.
One point he made very clearly goes a bit like this: People are rational and they make good decisions given the options they’re faces with. So, let’s say you’re someone working at a less than challenging/fulfilling job day after day and at night you go home and you manage a Guild of 40 or 50 people in World of Warcraft, (or organize a Society in Entropia Universe!) and you’re really good at it, which is no small feat. You’re successful and doing well, and it’s fun and challenging and fulfilling. It is not bad, or evil, or stupid or wrong that you’d rather be doing that than going to your dead end, boring job. What it points out is not a failure of games and gamers, but rather a shortcoming of the current set up in the physical world, where we have millions and millions of people who are chronically underutilized in their jobs. The opportunity is there to harness that vast human potential and fulfill people at the same time.
I agree with him! And, as you look at the demographic trends you see that the Baby Boomers are moving into retirement and they’re taking a huge amount of knowledge and productivity with them as they do. Generation X isn’t going to be filling many of those positions, Gen X is already working. No, it’s going to be the Millenials. And, they’re into games. I believe that companies who pay attention to that and correct course for it stand to do far better than companies who don’t. In other words, if companies don’t make their jobs a lot more fun they’ll be running a serious risk of being trumped by their competitors who do. I also believe that some form of wiki technology, perhaps combined with gameplay aspects, will be crucial to companies keeping some of that institutional knowledge from vanishing as the Boomers retire.
Jane’s comments dovetailed very well with Jenkins’ and Johnson’s conversation, too. Jane talked about Positive Psychology, which, instead of looking at how brains can go wrong, looks at the best case for the human brain. What makes us happy? What makes us function well? She points to the undeniable similarities between what that field is finding and game design. It turns out that game design actually turns out to be about happiness and fulfillment. She boils it down to 4 basic tenets of happiness are: 1) Satisfying work to do. 2) The experience of being good at something. 3) Time spent with people you like 4) The chance to be a part of something bigger. I like to note, as she does, that it takes multiplayer games to accomplish all 4 of these. And, that probably explains why Microsoft was so slammed when Halo 3 came out and everyone wanted to get onto XBox Live (which is an MMO, albeit a very bounded one) and play Halo 3 together! She concludes that if you’re in the game design business what you may not realize is that you’re actually in the happiness business. (Trivia: When she says, “I like that someone in the back is going like that (and pumps her fist in the air)! She’s talking about me, by the way. I love what she was saying.)
So, I recently registered TheFungineers.com. As Erik Bethke of GoPets.com points out, building game elements into everything can lead to better outcomes. Think of LinkedIn.com. There’s a green bar that shows you how complete your profile is. It drives people bonkers when it isn’t 100%. So, they add their picture and ask their friends to write them a recommendation, and take the steps they need to take to go from 50% to 60% to 80% and then finally 100%! Woo hoo! I’m 100% It’s a game element and it works very well for Linked In, I bet. I also think that the coffee cards some cafe’s give out, where you buy 10 coffees and your 11th is free, is also a game. No, it’s not very complicated, but it works!
Finally, I want to give a shout out to Edward Castronova whose excellent book Exodus to the Virtual World (and his previous writings, as well) explore this idea very deeply. Castronova suggests that game culture and virtual worlds will have an impact on the real world, forcing policy makers to consider fun, fulfillment and happiness in their policy decisions. I freakin’ love it. At first I fought him and his line of thinking, but once I was a bit further into the book I was a convert.