SXSW 2008: Jane McGonigal Keynote

by danhon

Tuesday Keynote: Jane McGonigal

Room A

Tuesday, March 11th

2:00 pm 3:00 pm

 Jane McGonigal   Creative Dir,   Avant Game 

Jane McGonigal

Start with a video trailer of The Lost Ring ARG.
“Please, I need your help – I can’t do this alone”
[the standard call to action of an ARG these days]

So I wanted to start with that trailer and I know that you like something to do during the talk beside watching the talk – this game has been going on for a week now and the players made 134 high res screen grabs from the trailer with these hidden messages inside them, you can go to Flickr if I bore you, and you can look for the tag tr01 and let me know in Q&A if you can find anything. The rest of you can watch the talk.

I’m here to talk to you about alternate realities. There’s lots of different definitions for what that manes – instead of making games more realistic, better graphics, better AI, I’m trying to make the real world more like games. I want to talk to you about why I think we need more alternate realities, we need the world to be better designed so it functions more like a game. I’m going to start with a different topic – I want to give you a perspective on the future of happiness. I’m also a researcher at the institute of the future, it’s a non-profit think tank at Palo Alto, CA, we look at interesting things happening today and imagine what the future might be like when we see weird things happening today. One of the weird things is research around the subject of happiness – I started talking about the subject almost a year ago today when Is aw signals of peoples’ interest in the science of happiness, and in this past year the growth and attention in the subject has gone off the chart and we’ve started to see a backlash. There’s a new field of research in positive psychology, the purpose of the field is to look at our brains not as things can be malfunction – like normal psychology, focussed on problems, disorders, why we feel bad – we need to look at the good stuff too, what makes us happy, what makes us function well, the best case scenario for the human brain. You’ve probably heard a bit about it – Stumbling on Happiness, Authentic Happiness, etc. one of the things that really interests me as I read all this stuff is the amazing parallel between what they’re discovering and the core tenets of game design.

I should mention that there is a bit of a backlash against this happiness research – Against Happiness by Eric G Wilson – we shouldn’t think about fun all the time, we can get depressed, have meloncholy, I want to say before we dive into that that this is a new kind of happiness, this isn’t warm fuzzy feelings, this is about understanding the human brain and the human body and the optimal conditions that help us live a high quality of life, it’s not about not having bad experiences, it’s about trying to capture the best human experience possible and using vigorous scientific research to define it and to help make peoples’ lives more worth living. What we’re seeing really is an explosion of metrics for measuring happiness – inserting happiness making things – quality of life index, happy planet index, gross national happiness, Canadian index of wellbeing, there’s – this great new set of tools about how thesystems we design might impact happiness levels.

So, do you think you’re in the happiness busines? You’re making things that people experience, I don’t think quite yet that we think our primary product is happiness, but we better start. So, a future forecast for 2013. These are not predictions but they are what we think are the most plausible scenarios for the coming years based on today’s signals. When I first wrote this a year ago I had this set for 2017 and things are moving so fast I moved it up by 4 years.

Quality of life becomes the primary metric for evaluating interactive brands, services, environments and experiences. How it impacts our quality of life – because of this, positive psycho is increasingly a principal, explicit influence on interactive design and development. We’re also going to see communities forming around different visions of a real life worth living – there’s no monolithic answer, but we will see communities starting to form that define particular lives. And finally, value will be defined as a mesaurable increase in real happiness, now that we have all these different ways of measuring, we’ll watch as things impact it, wellbeing becomes a new capital we can trade in, increase, decrease.

That’s the thing I want to spend time talking about – happiness is the new capital. If you want someone to value your service, eperience, you need to explicitly generate a positive experience for them. Happiness doesn’t mean what it used to – some people do define it as a warm fuzzy thing still, but I’m hear to say that it’s not a warm puppy, although I have a picture of my puppy coming up in 20 slides, so we will extract some, but this warm fuzziness is not what I want to talk about. I’ve been researching this for a while, so the 4 key principles that have come out of all of this peer reviewed research:

1. satisfying work to do
2. the experience of being good at something
3. time spent with people we like
4. the chance to be a part of something bigger

Not money. Not even neccessarily fun. What blew my mind was the realisation that nothing gives you these four things in higher or better quality than games. Games given you satisfying work to do, designed for you to be successful, multiplayer games spent with people you like, and games give you a chance to be a part of something bigger.

Multiplayer games are the ultimate happiness engine – everyone in the games industry – all of us are already in the happiness business, as the rest of the interactive community starts to catch on to create happiness, more and more of us will be in the business of producing happiness engines. We look for signals, these weird things that catch our attention, a sign of something different we need to pay attention to.

Some signals relating to multiplayer games as a happiness engine.

Graffiti: “I’m not good at  life” – I think for a lot of gamers, their experience of life is that it’s not sufficiently designed for them to be good at it that virtual worlds. They’re set up so we can be really good at things that we can’t be good at in real life. The first thing I have are legions of collaborators and allies who want to help me, when you get out of bed, you’re not walking into that same environment. In this game world, you get all this data and these visualisations, you feel you can master this world of data, and then you get these little messagesin the bottom of the screen that tell you congratulations, you’ve gained a talent point, your strength has increased – feedback, I’m getting better at something. I bet no one says this talk is better than the one you gave at GDC, you get one speaking point!

So games come with better instructions, clear goals, missions, sense of purpose, our attention is focussed to accomplish this specific thing. Games give us better feedback with the data displays, characters in our face with feedback and we know how we’re doing, games are designed to help us see where our weakenesses are and to grow and get better. Games have better community even in a competitive game, you’re still collaborating, you’ve agreed to play by the same rules, so you’ve bought into the same world. So by having this shared set of rules, this shared story, this incredibe story, you feel part of something that you don’t in the real world, it’s not the same as in a game world, we see the world the same way.

There’s a problem. If you look at trends, it started in north America, there’s quite a bit more in Asia and parts of Eastern Europe, a global mass exodus towards virtual worlds and game worlds. I’m not an alarmist saying these kids are all into game worlds and staying inside, I understand it, Edward Castronova said in his book we’re witnessing a global mass exodus, and he’s an economist. It makes sense, it’s an economically rational decision for people to spend more time and money and more passion in virtual worlds and game worlds because those worlds are set up better for them to succeed – more social opportunity and possiblity better financial success. Better opportunity to learn – they’re worried about them, they’re so excited because they’re learning, they’re not getting this in schools or life. It’s rational to spend 20-40hrs a week for people, look at average amount of time an MMO player spends – 16 hours a week, the numbers keep going up. We could keep going, we could make games so immersive and well designed, we could suck more money and attention, but we might also want to try something else which is to take everything we’ve learned about making games succesful and inviting and do that in the real world so we don’t need to escape from it as much and it boils down to quality of life. For gamers, it boils down to perception of quality of life, virtuality is beating reality. I think it’s the most important thing I have to say today, a lot of us work here, we have cool jobs, we travel around, we’re very lucky in comparison to the people who use the systems we design, the games we make, their lives are not as exciting, engaging, they don’t make them as happy as the games do. I look at it as a moral and ethical responsibility to take everything I’ve learned to help those people have that kind of adventure. What if I felt if I was as good at life as I am at games. A lot of people are playing with that notion.

So, the bad news. Games are awesome but it’s like we invented the written word and decided only to write books. Games are an incredibly language and system, they should be everywhere imagine if people who came up with words decided only to put them on bound pages, and not exit signs, or things on t-shirts or name tags – they’re words! Why are we making games only for the bound pages for a computer screen or console, why aren’t we doing that to help people navigate and understand the world around us. So here’s some examples, more signals:

Multiplayer gaming circa 2008.

Chore Wars!
Finally you can claim xp for housework. I can’t tell you how many parents have set this up with their kids and kids are doing chores and they love it. You get to claim xp for completing a chore. You can play with your office and roommate.

A new game in alpha – Zyked. COming out of Scandinavia – video games are fun, exercising, not so fun. They’ve created a game that treats exercise like an MMO, giving you points and skills.

Serios – embedding games at work. A simple overlay of a virtual currency on top of your everyday producitivty software, you have to pay them a virtual currency if you want people to do things. Pay them to open email, attend an email, or I will only take meetings at 25k serios or above, it helps you select priorities. I’m willing to give you 50k serios to just read this memo, then you understand that. It creates flows so you can see where the currency is being spent – Howard Rice is getting lots of money – he must be really important, why don’t I know who he is, departmental connections, allies, official infrastructure to help them.

Citizen Logistics – what if life were a team activity. What if your missions were to help other people, it knows where you are because of GPS and people online can see where you are and get you to make peoples’ wishes come true and you can do cool adventurous things. So this is good news.

So what do the signals mean in the big picture? They’re in alpha, they’re not mass popular yet. To imagine the future look back at least twice as far as you’re looking forward. I’m going to do that now, this is one of those weird analogies, my husband has to deal with this all the time. Here comes another one. Looking back – to find an analogy to see where game and interactive design is. Soap in 1931 – LA times headline from 1931 – soap kills germs! Soap’s been around at this time ever since the romans invented it, and then you have the headline in 1931. It took thousands of years that it’d be good to have in lots of places to not get sick and not die. Games now are like soap, that we’ll all be installing them in every building, soap in our pockets that we can use, we’re not killing germs, we’re killing boredom.

Games kill BOREDOM. Found to be fatal to dangerous LACK OF ENGAGEMENT. Kill alienation, kill anxiety, kill lack of confidence. Killing depression, fatal to lack of purpose and meaning. They can give you purpose and meaning and community.

That’s why games are like soap, thanks for going with us there. Alternately reality designers are trying to embed these happiness engines in everyday life.

For those of you who don’t know the time – the concept alternate relaity comes from science fiction. It is not alternative reality – it’s alternate reality. That’s really important, the players named the genre. So I think that’s cool, the community named it, we should respect that. It’s not an *alternative*, it’s an *alternate* way of experiencing *this* reality, changing the way this reality works. It comes from SF, if you’re a geek like me then you might know that there’s an OED for SF citations, so you can look up the origin for alternate reality is GS Elrick, 1978, the SF handbook 1978 – another way of experiencing existence. That’s what an ARG is, it’s another way of experiencing your everyday life. They’re on your iPhone, they’re sending emails, they’re int he world, they’re in the street corner, they’re there, it’s part of your everyday life.

So let me tell you about World Without Oil from 2007. If you were at the interactive awards on Sunday, you’ll know we won! So here’s what it was: it was a global simulation of an oilshock, we told the players that we have run out of oil and you now have to go about your real life as if this were true. It’s not coming to a virtual environment, it’s in your real life. Show us you’re living your real life as if it’s true. We would give you realtime updates as to what’s going on in yoru area, what’s the price, how’s it impacting food supply, different metrics for levels of chaos, misery vs quality of life, so you would know what the ficitonal parameters were for your real geogrpahy and you’d document the impact the game was having. We used the web to get players to show us what htis would be like. A solider in Iraq had an LJ about what it would be like to fight a war in a world without oil, people converting trucks to biodiesel in real life, people out in the street doing man ont he street interviews with people not playing, college kids doing awesome manga, we had people doing podcasts, people doing geocaches and drop spots of survival equipment, because in your alternate reality oyu’ve run out of stuff, we had lolcats. This is one player’s journey through the game, she was telling the story, doing her podcast, you can watch week by week how the game played out and it lasted for 32 weeks so you can see how things got really dark and apocalyptic, things got horrible, but then the players got it together and fixed things and it turned out to be not so bad. There’s lots of ways to navigate the archive, there’s a summary, so a real life architects conference and asked all the architects what the architecture would be like, we had fellowship without oil, we had religious leaders writing sermons, we had immigration policy, we had teens playing, teen social life, some of my favourites were your mom without oil, and zoom zoom without oil, nascar enthusiasts who were really concerned, that was awesome. So that’s an example of an alternate reality, it’s at worldwithoutoil.org and you can live in that alternate reality, we still have people doing that, signing up.

How ARGs amplify human happiness by delivering ten superhero abilities to people who play these games. When you match these strengths to things that people have figured out make us happy, happiness doesn’t mean what it used to, it matches up with research, they come out of MMOs and ARGs and not everyone’ sgood at yet. Maybe if you’re a gamer, and you do a lot of online, collaboration, you may have developed these already.

The first is mobbability, it’s one of my strengths. The ability to collaborate and coordinate large scales. If you had high mobbability, we’d know what to do with this crowd right now. We’d storm another session and they’d be overwhelmed. You’d like to think about how we could enlarge numbers.

Cooperation radar, the ability to detect instinctively the best collaborator of a mission – best strengths of people, knoweldge, skills.

Ping quotient – your ability to reach out to other people in a network and your likelihood to engage – really good at reaching out and engaging and responding to pings, if not you’re walled off.

Influency – top one, it’s the ability to adapt your persuasive strategies to specific mediums, individuals, forms, environments. How do I persuade people at GDC or SXSW or ETech – each community requires a different set of motiviations, etc. a different language. If you can have that fluid sense to motivate people.

Multi Capitalism – people are trading in different value systems, some want money – most want money, some want social capital, they want an introduction, virtual capital, environmental capital, carbon offsetting, trading money for environmental capital. As you bring together large networks working together, people will want something different in return.

Protovation – this is great, when I talk about this to big companies, they get scared of this so I really like it. Rapid, fearless innovation, the feeling that failure is fun, that’s when you’re learning the most, fail quickly and a lot you can learn the most. What do gamers do? They try every thing and then 99% they end up dead it’s a great learning moment. Not getting feelings hurt, etc.

Open Authorship: very natural to the blog and pda age – comfort with giving content away and knowing that it will be changed, we have that level of comfort but also a design skill, something that won’t be broken by other people, encouraging people to improve things, not break them.

Signal/Noise Management: You see what these gamers have an amazing ability to handle so much noise and to know instinctively at any given moment, which bit of information, news, clue is relevant right at this moment, what’s noise for me is signal to you and get that flow going.

Longbroading: thinking in much bigger systems, bigger community scales, the zoomed out view of systems.

Emergensight: You can spot patterns as they start to bubble up, you weren’t expecting, that you can spot, that you’re comfortable. The Lost Ring game, that’s being run in 8 languages simultaneously, some in English, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish, etc. it’s really a lot of content and as players create more content, the system gets really big, we don’t know who’s going to show up to play, how do yo u watch it unfold and spot thigns.

A chance to be part of something bigger, all these skills speak to that. These are ten skills coming out, I’m going to put my email address out, btu I want to give you a sneak peek.

So where do we go next?

Twitter’s a good place to start, a natural interface for a lot of these improvisational, social games. Nike iPod – I want to make an ARG for that. I tried running, I hated every step of it, there’s a whole infastructure now, planes! Planes are putting in aweseome communication systems. I’d love to play a game on a plane that’s about being on a plane and it’s not doom or pacman or whatever.

This is my dog! Is it the dachsund or the Sheltie? It’s the Sheltie! I spend an hour a day at the dog park for up to two years, this is his best friend, I throw the ball every day. It’s boring, but I want to be working, I need a game to fix that, there’s this thign called dog tags – sniff collars, they’re social networks for dogs, you may have heard of this – they recognise other dogs they meet, they measure speed, how far they’ve gone. I want to build/have this built – an MMO where your avatar is your dog so when I have to do a guild quest, I ahve to round up all the days, you need an organisational dog, bring her out, they need their friends, if they chase it enough times, then we get our XP. That would be a good alternate reality.

This is a friend of mine’s blog with a prius. Tracksticks – this is my favourite toy that I’ve ever gotten, it records GPS location every 5 seconds, it knows your entire track around the world [I want one of them] You can put it in Google Earth. This new neurosky cognitivie transmittive that can be hooked up to games so it knows when you’re angry/calm/excited, I have a theory that involves people I don’t like and using my brain to destroy them. [laughter, clapping]

I want to say a few things more about The Lost Ring – it’s for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, we’re going to give people the opportunity to have an AR experience at the olympics, you can discover a lost sport that no one’s played for 2k years, everyone in this room will never be a real olympic athlete, but what if there were a sport no one knows how to play anyone of us could be the champion, if you want to have that, you want a lost sport – you want to have friends in every country on the globe, having somethign important to do, being successful, time spent with friends, I’m hoping this project will deliver a lot of this happiness.

So, here’s the important takewaway stuff.

1. I do believe that soon eough most of us will be in the happiness business. I would advise you to take some time to look at books about happiness research, have someone you work with look at this stuff.

2. Games designers have a huge head start. We’ve been spending 20 years in the game dev industry trying to optimise human experience, maybe we don’t have as much of a headstart, we’re getting there, starting to do it. Look at games as reasearch.

3. Alternate realities signal the desire, need and opportunity for all of us to redesign reality for real quality of life.