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Faithful forwarder Laurel refers us to this article in the Boston Globe about happiness studies – will new data about what actually makes people happier change our policies as well as our thinking? This quote from it caught my eye:
Others have begun to think about how happiness data might change where people live. For example, the trade-off between house size and commute length is familiar to every suburbanite, but as Cornell economist Robert Frank has pointed out, the two things affect our mood in different ways. While we quickly adapt to a bigger house and start taking it for granted, research suggests that a long, trafficky commute is something we never adjust to, and that even grows more onerous with time. Work like this could give added heft to arguments for policy measures like higher gas taxes, and for zoning laws that concentrate housing and cut down on traffic and commuting distances – arguments that now tend to be cast chiefly in environmental terms, but which also might push people toward decisions that make them happier in the long term.
This echoes discoveries made in the World Without Oil game. People engaged in the game made similar discoveries: when the oil shock made their commutes more painful in the wallet, people began to rethink the exurban lifestyle. One wonders if serious alternate reality games might be a way for researchers to cross-check their happiness studies?
WWO’s own Participation Architect, Jane McGonigal, continues her business-of-ARGs evangelism in this article in Businessweek, and answers five questions posed by Businessweek about Alternate Reality Games in this 6-min video. As Jane notes, it’s important for businesses to take note of and get involved with the sort of massively peer-peer learning, collaborative brainstorming, and shaping of win-win futures that alternate reality games can spark – not just for their own business success but for the improvement of quality of life in general. Or as Jane puts it, “increasing the odds of us collaboratively inventing a future that we all want to live in.” Go Jane!
The Economist magazine ran a cool democratic experiment in which they created a Global Electoral College online and allowed the world to vote on the American election. The result: Obama sweeps the world, capturing 9,115 out of a total of 9,875 electoral votes. Which explains my inbox, crammed with election excitement and good wishes from friends outside the U.S.
Curious to see the McCain-leaning red states around the world: Iraq, predictably, but Algeria? The Congo? Cuba? Click on through to check out the interactive map.
I’m here at ARGFestoCon in Boston, mingling with the faithful and visionary members of the Alternate Reality Game tribe, and the central theme seems to be the future of this genre. Quo vadis?
I wouldn’t go so far as to offer a consensus view or even suggest that there is one, but I think these views hold a good deal of currency:
- The future is bright for interactive experiences of the ARG type. (Wikipedia)
- ARGlike experiences are the most affective media experiences out there, period.
- The ARG idea is growing fast and people are cognitively exploring its frontiers. As a result, the actual term “alternate reality game” has hit its cognitive limit, and new terms are about to emerge to describe these experiences.
To date, ARGs have basically fallen into two camps: (1) commercially funded endeavors that tell a story for (ultimately) a marketing reason – often to augment a movie or game story; (2) homegrown endeavors where ARG players use the ARG form to tell their own story (or extend a movie or game story in a fanfic way). As a non-entertainment, storymaking (as opposed to storytelling) experience, the World Without Oil game is on the fringe of the conversations.
I moderated a panel that discussed Serious ARGS (ARGs used for serious purposes such as education and training) and also Independent ARGs (non-commercial ones). Panelist Alice Leung, of BBN, described how DARPA is funding research about the effectiveness of ARGs to grow long-term collaborative behavior in organizations. Panelist Brian Clark of GMD Studios gave us an insight into further possibilities in this area: he described an inquiry he had received from a university interested in establishing a 4-year collaborative experience that an entire class of students would play together during their time at the university. Such an augmented reality is a fascinating idea that opens up a treasure trove of possible projects and clients.
In my view, however, all these approaches are missing one of the fundamental strengths of ARGlike experiences: the immersive power of storymaking. All of the above are storytelling projects, where people who like to tell stories use the ARG form to people who like to experience them, and there is a level of abstraction or detachment that’s inherently present. In World Without Oil, the players pretty much wrote the story collaboratively. As a result, in WWO there is no abstraction, no external reward, no comfort zone of “oh good, I found what the gamemasters wanted me to find.” There is only the person directly inside the “what if?” reality, and the journey is inward.
It’s been fun hobnobbing with my fellow wizards in the wonderful land of ARGz, but some of my best conversations have been with the players. One introduced herself as “just a player,” but the game designers present quickly corrected her: in the ARG world, the player is “the player,” we are “just the game designers.”
Here’s a chart showing the energy alternatives for the U.S. moving forward to the year 2025, plotted by their effect on energy security (horizontal) and climate effect (vertical), as well as by scale of effect (size of circle). So: options that move us up and right from center improve our situation over business-as-usual, and those which move us left and down from center produce more negative effects than business-as-usual. Two things of note: (1) advancing our auto efficiency standards to 30 mpg is the clear winner in every respect, yet seems rarely talked about, and (2) why does the chart not include raising the tax on fuels to stimulate efficiency across the board, as most other oil-importing countries of the world have done?
Jane McGonigal has exciting news – she’s announcing “The X2 Club” this week, a massively multiplayer science game. She says X2 is “an alternate reality game, light on fiction and heavy on real-world data, that scientists will play” and that the game “combines collaborative forecasting (World Without Oil-style) and prediction markets with RSS feeds of scientific journals and popular science publications.” Should be the sort of thing that many WWO players can get their teeth into: a fiction with fact close underneath.
I’m cribbing today from these notes that Doug Foxgrover made of a talk by Henry Jenkins, transmedia/new media guru at MIT, at Educause. The talk was on “What can Wikipedia teach us about new media literacies?” The talk itself is podcasted here.
I bring it up because education was (and is) very much a goal of WWO. It’s part of the mission of ITVS, our sponsor, and very much on my mind these days as I work to shape the WWO lesson plans for high school teachers. (Looking at first drafts now; ready in about 3 weeks?)
This gets important, as Jenkins, Jane McGonigal and others say that “new media literacy” is exactly what people are going to need to be capable learners and contributors as the world moves into a participatory digital culture. Jenkins’ checklist for that culture maps really well onto World Without Oil:
- Low barriers to artistic and civic expression (people played WWO by email or even by phone)
- Strong support for creating and sharing what you create
- Some kind of informal mentorship (peer to peer, mostly, but our WWO characters filled this role)
- Members feel their contributions matter
- Some degree of social connection between members
The new media literacies are social skills and participation skills, and there’s nothing like a shared crisis to get people talking and working together – even if that crisis is of the “what if?” variety.
Three other things in Jenkins’ talk resonated with me: one, you must take the students’ participation seriously – it must matter. In WWO we pretty much let our “students” drive the bus, to really good effect I think. Two, you should let the participation emerge from students’ own cultural life – again, something WWO explicitly did. And finally, Jenkins identifies a core challenge as ethical: as the traditional forms of professional training (such as journalism) break down, how do you prepare ordinary citizens, and young people in particular, for their increasing role as participants? This is exactly the big deal about WWO, I think: to democratize real-world problemsolving, to empower people to collectively forge their own solutions.
Jenkins lists “four big ideas”: Collective intelligence, Judgment, Networking and Negotiation. And cites WWO as an example of the first big idea. WWO Lives!
In other news, the price of oil – not. Anyone else noticed how it has completely fallen off the news radar lately?
A bit of feel-good ephemera from the Prelinger Library in San Francisco.
Just found this today: Jane McGonigal’s talk at the Web 2.0 summit in mid-October, on blip.tv. She observes that games these days offer players many joys and satisfactions they can’t get as easily in real life, and predicts that we will see more efforts to make reality more like games. WWO is one of the signs Jane cites that indicate this shift is happening. Check it out…
Iowa Public Television hosts a premier event for TV and video production, technical and education professionals, and this year they invited WWO Creative Director Ken Eklund to speak about crowd-sourced storytelling. Listen to the MP3, or go here and scroll down to Tuesday, Oct. 2, 9:30 am to view his snappy presentation.
Thanks to our very own Marie Lamb (Gracesmom) for finding this one: scientists rebuke oil industry forecasters, question rosy forecasts. And check out the headline they gave it… coincidence?