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The futurist: Why gamers will rule the world

...or at least make it better


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At a recent video game tournament in Denver called ClutchCon, I was moderating a panel discussion on the future of video games, and we got into the topic of leveraging the time and energy spent playing video games into a “wisdom of crowds” approach for solving the world’s problems.

Video games have a way of immersing players into an epic challenge that consumes them physically, intellectually, and emotionally. While detractors commonly dismiss game playing as a waste of time, it more accurately embodies an evolutionary shift in human pastimes causing more synapse-firing per second than virtually any other activity on earth.

It is this heightened level of brain activity that most intrigues me. Educators would love to tap into it. Employers would give anything to see their employees as engaged at work as they are in games. And big thinkers who are heavily invested in solving the world’s biggest problems would drool over the prospects of applying ten gazillion well-focused brain cells onto whatever problem they’re wrestling with.

Passive engagement is far different than commanding someone’s full attention, and games have a way of engrossing players on virtually every brain metric for hours, sometimes days, on end. Gaming’s kill-or-be-killed situations force players to constantly push themselves to another mental state.

The addictive nature of gaming comes from players reaching pinnacle levels of brain activity where they are rewarded with an endorphin-like high. Ordinary kids are suddenly transformed into a swaggeringly ultra-cool superhero persona, and the accolades they receive for their digital accomplishments are just icing on the cake.

At issue, though, is our ability to transition “digital accomplishments” into something of real world value. How can we shine this spotlight of laser-brain brilliance onto problems like curing cancer, mitigating hurricane damage or large-scale corruption and actually change the world?

I’m many ways, the path to making some of the world’s greatest breakthroughs is much like slogging our way through a labyrinth of well camouflaged enemy warriors disguised as old school thinking, failed experiments, and self-doubt to find those eureka moments that have been eluding us for decades.

So is it possible to cluster the micro accomplishments of gaming in a way to inch our way towards the macro accomplishments of real world problem-solving? Here are a few unusual insights that are guaranteed to explode your objections to video games completely.

History of Game Theory and Gamification

Game theory did not really exist as a field until John von Neumann published a paper on the subject in 1928. His original paper was followed by his book, “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior” written in 1944.

In 1950, the first mathematical discussion of the prisoner's dilemma appeared as part of an experiment by famed mathematicians Merrill M. Flood and Melvin Dresher. The experiment was part of the RAND Corporation's investigations into game theory because of its possible applications in dealing with the buildup of nuclear weapons.

The term "gamification" was coined in 2002, but did not become popular until 2010. Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage users in solving problems. Gamification taps into people's natural tendencies and uses both physical and psychological rewards to incentivize continuous play. Types of rewards include points, achievement badges, entry into new levels, or winning some form of currency. 

One of the newer approaches to gamification has been to make mundane tasks feel more like games with techniques like adding meaningful choice, onboarding, adding narrative, and increasing levels of challenge.

Enter Jane McGonigal

Jane McGonigal is a famous author and game designer. In 2011 she gave a brilliant TED talk where she speculated that the countless man-hours dedicated to game play is preparing humanity for the future, but so far we don’t know what that future might be. Author of the bestseller “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World,” McGonigal has focused her thinking around the collective intelligence of massively multiplayer online gaming. She believes gaming has the potential to solve social ills and improve our quality of life.

McGonigal says that gamers around the world are learning four valuable skills, skills she refers to as the “four superpowers:”

  1. Urgent Optimism - Urgent optimism is the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success. Gamers always believe that an epic win is possible, and that it is always worth trying. 
     
  2. Weaving a Tight Social Fabric - Research shows that we like people better after we play a game with them, even if they've beaten us badly. The reason behind this is that it takes a lot of trust to play a game with someone. We trust that they will spend their time with us, that they will play by the same rules, value the same goals, and stay with the game until it's over.
     
  3. Blissful Productivity – People playing a game are actually happier working hard than most of us are relaxing or hanging out. They know what it feels like to be optimized, as human beings, to do hard meaningful work. Gamers are willing to work hard all the time, if they're given the right kind of work.
     
  4. Epic Meaning - Gamers love to be attached to awe-inspiring missions and human planetary-scale stories. She believes we are headed towards Nobel Prize level accomplishments through gaming.

Widely regarded as the public face of gamification, Jane’s breakthrough thinking has inspired a new generation of contemplative thinkers, including myself.

With this in mind, I’d like to step you through several ways in which we can apply the cumulative brainpower of gamers on real world problems.

Introducing the Four Rules for Game Testing Our Way to a Better Future

As we look around us, we are constantly confronted with things that don’t make sense. We see systems that are poorly run, corruption and inefficiencies happening on a broad scale, wasted resources, people falling through the cracks, and well-meaning individuals having their best intentions compromised.

Game testing is a way of directing the spotlight of human intelligence onto the systems that run our communities, our countries, and our technologies prior to them being implemented.

Much like sitting behind the master control panel of life, game designers in the future will have the ability to simulate every human-based system on a large scale and ferret out the necessary tweaks and modifications needed to optimize them for real-life conditions.

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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