There's a backlash against people spending all of their time on the Internet. But are they happier? Jane McGonigal of Institute for the Future spoke on happiness, alternate reality gaming, and gaming as a new langage at SXSW 2008. (And oh yes, she wrapped up by doing the Soldier Boy!)
The buzz on happiness
Psychology has been focused on disorders for the past 100 years - e.g., what makes us unhappy? In the past few years, however, researchers have begun to focus on the science of happiness. (The self-help section at Borders is full of recent books on How to Be Happy.) Happiness has become the new social capital, and here are its basic economics:
- Satisfying work to do
- The experience of being good at something
- Time spent with people you like
- The opportunity to be part of something bigger
Gaming's potential for influence
McGonigal jokes that multiplayer games are the ultimate happiness engine. But why does this matter? Games are an incredible system of language. Imagine if words were only used in books, and nowhere else in the world. Why are we only making games for within computer consoles? Why can't we use games to learn, or navigate the world around us? Some examples:
- Chore Wars awards your kids points-based rewards based on their completion of chores, within a competitive environment.
- Seriosity requires that people use virtual company currency in order to ask coworkers to do things, e.g., if you want me to attend your meeting, it will cost you 20,000 'serios.'
- World Without Oil (one of McGonigal's own games) simulates the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis, and players must make tough choices and lifestyle changes in order to maintain a satisfying lifestyle.
- Toyota Prius. The dashboard on thie gas-electric hybrid is essentially a video game focused on gas conservation and mileage.
- Trackstick. This personal GPS device transforms every step you take into part of a tracked journey.
One audience member asked about games being used to train the military, and McGonigal called out efforts by game designers to build humanitarian, mission-based, or community games such as SF0. "2032 is my personal benchmark for a game designer winning the Nobel Peace Prize."
How alternate reality games amplify human happiness
Alternate reality games (ARGs) provide another way for users to experience existence. McGonigal called out these ARG-developed powers which were identified through her research:
- Mobbability. The ability to coordinate on a large scale.
- Ping quotient. How easy you are to engage; with a high ping quotient, you're easy to connect and collaborate with. With a low one, you're not.
- Cooperation radar. The ability to sense who would be the best collaborator on a given task.
- Influency. Understand and work with a community's motivations.
- Multicapitalism. Work with people using different systems of capital, monetary or otherwise.
- Protovation. Willingness to fail rapidly and repeatedly without being discouraged.
- Open authorship. Open participation that encourages people to modify work in a positive way.
- Signal/noise management. The ability to filter and prioritize information at any given moment.
- Longbroading. The ability to think at a large scale of systems.
- Emergensight. Spot unexpected patterns as they pop up, and be ready to take advantage of them - even when systems scale in size and messiness.
Many of these skills also strike me as what was needed to succeed in Web 2.0 businesses, whether you're building Flickr or simply promoting your blog. They're definitely relevant in a society that's been influenced by Web 2.0 behavioral paradigms. But what do others think about McGonigal's ideas on games and happiness? Have you found these theories to be relevant and true?