How Online Games Will Save The World!

07 Dec

Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk in February 2010 must rank as one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking presentations of the year. What struck me right between the eye-balls was the incontrovertible truth of what she has to say about how people are made to feel in the online gaming world; how they are valued and trusted with planet-saving missions, and learn just a little beyond their current competency. The learning is always engaging and challenging. Failure is tolerated, and standards are exceptionally high. These are all things that we ought to be emulating in the classroom, but too often are not, and that failure to be as effective as an online game must hurt us as professionals.

But where McGonigal challenges us is not in her vision of the virtues of the learning models presented by gaming, or of how important gaming is, amounting as it does to a parallel curriculum, but in her assertion that if we only played more online games, we could save the planet!

This seemingly nonsensical thesis is carefully argued in the talk, and is made only half tongue-in-cheek, I suspect. She argues that if only we could use online games to work on real-world problems, then we would be harnessing the fullness of human potential to solve the problems of the planet. McGongigal has been active in developing Alternate Reality Games such as I love Bees or World Without Oil which show some of the potential of what she is arguing for.

Of course, one of the major problems with ARGs is that they appear to become so engaging that players become obsessive, lose their jobs, their spouses and all sense of reality. McGonogal’s project is to somehow marry the benefits of the online game or ARG with real world engagement. This is a challenging project, and I suspect that so much depends on how we perceive the value of entrusting large chunks of our education to gaming. As time goes by I believe that we will increasingly come to see less and less of a distance between gaming and education. Much as it is probably not possible to imagine training a pilot these days without using a simulator, we will probably come to see complex simulations, what we currently call games, as education. There seems little sense in arguing that education in the 21st Century should refuse to use powerful simulation techniques, or that what gaming has taught us about learning should be ignored.

What McGonigal teaches us is to bravely look forward to the day when games will have changed us, and the way that we think about ourselves. We will all have levelled-up!


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