A Game For Change (an RCG love story)
About a week ago I attended ScienceOnline2012, a conference about, as the title implies; science… online, and more! Science blogging, teaching with blogs, science writing, activism through blogs, filming science, and even how comedy god Mel Brooks can bless our blogs with his teachings; all were topics to be found around the “unconference-y” conference. By what crazy random happenstance was I there? Long story short, made into a run on sentence: four years ago I took biology with a teacher (Stacey Baker) who made us blog for her class (Extreme Biology) to help us feel less disenfranchised about our science education, and more involved, which led to me going to ScienceOnline2009 with her where I met awesome people, and I went back this year to talk about what I’ve done since then and why we need more kids blogging on the internet. *dramatically wipes sweat from brow*
Back on topic! While at ScienceOnline2012, I got into some pretty awesome discussions about how gaming is no longer restricted to pure entertainment. Rather, modern gaming is at a renaissance period, from which I think gaming will emerge as a serious force for change. Its called “Gamification” folks. Check it out. It has the potential to change, well, everything!
In a nut shell, gamification is: 1) Applying the qualities in games to real life to get people more involved 2) Making games that actually help solve real world problems, and 3) still not a “word” in spell check. You better believe it should be though!
During one of my raving rants about why gaming is unappreciated and how it can be a force for good, a lady asked me how gaming could actually be applied to, say, saving the environment. Little did I know I was talking to National Geographic corespondent and Real-world-Indiana-Jones-but-with-lipstic-and-stuff Mireya Mayor! How could a video game save the environment? to which my brain said, “durrrr” and my mouth said, “Well, say you had the entire gaming community in WoW participate in a single day where they powered off energy, that’s ten million people not using power for a day! Which is like, good!” and then my brain caught up a day later in proper Erik dial-up speed and thought, “Wow wait, no, imagine if the gaming community was saving energy everyday! Imagine a game that incentivised that, or even had people compete for it, or… or or or!!!”
And now I’m here to impart my brain barf to you! Like the very best penguin parents do.
Let’s dig right in shall we? Let’s save the environment; with a video game.
First some history: If you’re into gamification, then you’ve probably heard something or other about Jane McGonagall, and perhaps her alternate reality games like Evoke and World Without Oil. In a nutshell, these games are networks for communication about real world issues. World Without Oil, for example, had the players create blog posts and videos as if they were living in a world days after oil had run out for good, thus creating an alternate online reality. The result was described as “more than mere raising awareness”, with a total of 1900 active players writing about the problems, and even solutions, for this alternate, oil-broken world; people even changed their lifestyles. Green Soap is another social network game in development that creates a carbon profile on people’s facebook based on their online shopping, with the idea that a little friendly competition can help people make meaningful choices that help the environment.
Cool, very cool. These games are testaments to gamification; making reality more interesting, more engaging, more fun! and to useful ends. And yet…
To really unlock the potential of the video games to solve real world issues, the games that help solve those issues have to also attract people who are not necessarily interested in solving anything at all, at least not immediately. People who find a Facebook app to lower their carbon footprint, go to find that app because they want a tool to help them lower their carbon footprint. In other words; these games try to make an issue relatable through a game. Too have truly widespread effect, however, perhaps wealso need to work from the game side, figuring out how an engaging and fun video game can bring about real world change, and do so effectively.
First off, we need a genre. For widespread effects, we need widespread cooperation, sooooo MMO it is (Massively Multiplayer Online); the more people playing together, the better. We also want this game to be highly engaging, so lets aim for an RPG (Role-Playing Game), something similar to World of Warcraft in play quality (or Guild wars 2 since its better!!). Still, there will be parts of this game oriented towards real life actions, let’s call it a Massively Multiplayer Reality Changing Game; MMRCG for short. I wont deny I tried to sound that out as I typed it, with some ugly results.
Now in creating this MMRCG, I’m gonna throw back to Thomas L. Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, in which he brings up the idea of each home having a digital number-keeper-device-thing of all the energy a house is using, easily accessible with switches to every device for ultimate energy control. In our MMRCG, this little device is essential, at least if you want to be at the top of your game. The game will keep track of every user’s energy consumption, let’s say as a percent of total possible consumption of the household, so that we even out the playing field between large homes and small. Then, depending on how much energy a person is using, in game rewards are given. We can’t just reward individuals with low energy use, however, because of all the variables involved in one person’s life. Instead, your number is averaged with with rest of your guild, and if you’re doing well as an energy saving unit; staying below some benchmark, your guild gets a bump in that week’s victory points or experience. Everyone has to work together outside of the game if they want the extra reward in game.
Let’s keep running with it. Your number is also averaged with the rest of the players in your town or city, again measured on a percent scale. If, as a real world community, your energy output is sufficiently conservative, the people in that region, town, whatever, also get a boost in game in their progress. Its important to note that the MMRCG will not punish players if they don’t put effort into energy conservation, but their guild mates might! The message is: “Play the game your way, but if you help save the world too, then you get something too!” The game itself is a way to incentivize going green, without any real economic expense on individuals. Sure, we can’t pay people money in the real world for their “green” efforts, so let’s reward them in a game instead!
Big picture; this one part of our MMRCG could not only excite energy saving around the world, there could be apps to keep track of your towns energy use, or find others playing the game to work together in a town, saving energy together. Towns and cities could even compete for who saves the most energy to unlock extra content, or even just raise money for environmental real world projects. Suddenly, a game like WoW could become much larger then an online universe; it could become a social trend and a globalizing force!
Ambitious, I know. Dare I say a touch naive? Even the greatest companies are, after all, in it for the money. So imagine if the company itself has an incentive to get people saving energy. By saving energy, the company running the MMRCG claims some of the power saving glory, and gets subsidies from state or national government for it.
*PAUSE* ..sure, the government is gonna subsidies gaming. … right.
Except… they already do! And with a MMRCG, the game company could report monthly energy savings straight to the federal government, straight from player’s own homes.
The MMRCG extends beyond just saving energy, the game itself must be looked at. In our MMRCG, there would be two alternate worlds: one where the enviornment humanity thrives in cooperation with the environment, and one where everything that can go wrong has gone wrong; countries are flooding, the climate is too hot, cute animals are extinct, and war for resources is abundant. Insert real world issues into a fantasy/sci-fi setting, use real plants and animals, real research, and make what feels like a plausible and real world in a game. There will be battles and negotiations, raids, and player vs. player objectives, like all the best games have, but all the information in the gaming world is relatable to the real world. If players picked up real information in a game that was relevant to the real world, people would be learning while they play! And what glorious learning it would be. Just like titles such as Deus Ex or Bioshock have players question aspects of the real world; by creating a world that’s relatable, people make the connections, and start thinking!
The possibilities seem utterly endless. Yet, as grand as ideas can be, it’s all just speculation as I sit here sipping hot coco dreading school on Monday!!! (I’m writing this on a Saturday, one of the two days out of the week I learn things! (bitter? never!)) … Education and gaming is a topic I’ll approach some other time… The truth is, the potential for gaming to change the world is dazzling, and even doable! My speculative brain barf here about an MMRCG isn’t nearly perfect, and to actually work would require ample investment and development. But The Age of Games IS here, so let’s make the most of it I say!
TL-DR: Right now, games for change don’t engage the massive audiences we need them to. Games for change don’t yet feel epic, and epic games don’t aim to change much. We need a good game in place; a fun, truly epic game. Then from there, we create elements that can actually change the world. Then we change the world.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.