Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world (2)
Finally: epic meaning. Gamers love to be attached to awe-inspiring missions to human planetary-scale stories. So, just one bit of trivia that helps put that into perspective: So, you all know Wikipedia, biggest wiki in the world. Second biggest wiki in the world, with nearly 80,000 articles, is the World of Warcraft wiki. Five million people use it every month. They have compiled more information about World of Warcraft on the Internet than any other topic covered on any other wiki in the world. They are building an epic story. They are building an epic knowledge resource about the World of Warcraft.
Okay, so these are four superpowers that add up to one thing: Gamers are super-empowered hopeful individuals. These are people who believe that they are individually capable of changing the world. And the only problem is, they believe that they are capable of changing virtual worlds and not the real world. That's the problem that I'm trying to solve. There's an economist named Edward Castronova. His work is brilliant. He looks at why people are investing so much time and energy and money in online worlds. And he says, "We're witnessing what amounts to no less than a mass exodus to virtual worlds and online game environments." And he's an economist, so he's rational. And he says --
Not like me, I'm a game designer; I'm exuberant. But he says that this makes perfect sense, because gamers can achieve more in online worlds than they can in real life. They can have stronger social relationships in games than they can have in real life; they get better feedback and feel more rewarded in games than they do in real life. So he says, for now it makes perfect sense for gamers to spend more time in virtual worlds than the real world. Now, I also agree that that is rational, for now. But it is not, by any means, an optimal situation. We have to start making the real world work more like a game.
I take my inspiration from something that happened 2,500 years ago. These are ancient dice, made out of sheep's knuckles. Before we had awesome game controllers, we had sheep's knuckles. And these represent the first game equipment designed by human beings, and if you're familiar with the work of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, you might know this history, which is the history of who invented games and why. Herodotus says that games, particularly dice games, were invented in the kingdom of Lydia, during a time of famine.
Apparently, there was such a severe famine that the king of Lydia decided they had to do something crazy. People were suffering. People were fighting. It was an extreme situation, they needed an extreme solution. So, according to Herodotus, they invented dice games, and they set up a kingdom-wide policy: On one day, everybody would eat, and on the next day, everybody would play games. And they would be so immersed in playing the dice games, because games are so engaging, and immerse us in such satisfying, blissful productivity, they would ignore the fact that they had no food to eat. And then on the next day, they would play games; and on the next day, they would eat.
And according to Herodotus, they passed 18 years this way, surviving through a famine, by eating on one day, and playing games on the next. Now, this is exactly, I think, how we're using games today. We're using games to escape real-world suffering -- we're using games to get away from everything that's broken in the real environment, everything that's not satisfying about real life, and we're getting what we need from games. But it doesn't have to end there. This is really exciting. According to Herodotus, after 18 years the famine wasn't getting better, so the king decided they would play one final dice game. They divided the entire kingdom in half. They played one dice game, and the winners of that game got to go on an epic adventure. They would leave Lydia, and they would go out in search of a new place to live, leaving behind just enough people to survive on the resources that were available, and hopefully to take their civilization somewhere else where they could thrive.
Now, this sounds crazy, right? But recently, DNA evidence has shown that the Etruscans, who then led to the Roman Empire, actually share the same DNA as the ancient Lydians. And so, recently, scientists have suggested that Herodotus' crazy story is actually true. And geologists have found evidence of a global cooling that lasted for nearly 20 years, that could have explained the famine. So this crazy story might be true. They might have actually saved their culture by playing games, escaping to games for 18 years, and then been so inspired, and knew so much about how to come together with games, that they actually saved the entire civilization that way.
Okay, we can do that.
We've been playing Warcraft since 1994. That was the first real-time strategy game from the World of Warcraft series. That was 16 years ago. They played dice games for 18 years, we've been playing Warcraft for 16 years. I say we are ready for our own epic game. Now, they had half the civilization go off in search of a new world, so that's where I get my 21 billion hours a week of game-play from. Let's get half of us to agree to spend an hour a day playing games, until we solve real-world problems. Now, I know you're asking, "How are we going to solve real-world problems in games?" Well, that's what I've devoted my work to over the past few years, at the Institute for the Future. We have this banner in our offices in Palo Alto, and it expresses our view of how we should try to relate to the future. We do not want to try to predict the future. What we want to do is make the future. We want to imagine the best-case scenario outcome, and then we want to empower people to make that outcome a reality. We want to imagine epic wins, and then give people the means to achieve the epic win.
I'm just going to very briefly show you three games that I've made that are an attempt to give people the means to create epic wins in their own futures. This is World Without Oil. We made this game in 2007. This is an online game in which you try to survive an oil shortage. The oil shortage is fictional, but we put enough online content out there for you to believe that it's real, and to live your real life as if we've run out of oil. So when you come to the game, you sign up, tell us where you live, and then we give you real-time news videos, data feeds that show you exactly how much oil costs, what's not available, how food supply is being affected, how transportation is being affected, if schools are closed, if there's rioting, and you have to figure out how you would live your real life as if this were true. And then we ask you to blog about it, to post videos, to post photos.
We piloted this game with 1,700 players in 2007, and we've tracked them for the three years since. And I can tell you that this is a transformative experience. Nobody wants to change how they live, just because it's good for the world, or because we're supposed to. But if you immerse them in an epic adventure and tell them, "We've run out of oil. This is an amazing story and adventure for you to go on. Challenge yourself to see how you would survive," most of our players have kept up the habits that they learned in this game. So for the next world-saving game, we decided to aim higher -- bigger problem than just peak oil. We did a game called Superstruct at the Institute for the Future. And the premise was, a supercomputer has calculated that humans have only 23 years left on the planet. This supercomputer was called the Global Extinction Awareness System, of course. We asked people to come online -- almost like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. You know Jerry Bruckheimer movies, you form a dream team -- you've got the astronaut, the scientist, the ex-convict, and they all have something to do to save the world. (Laughter)
But in our game, instead of just having five people on the dream team, we said, "Everybody's on the dream team, and it's your job to invent the future of energy, the future of food, the future of health, the future of security and the future of the social safety net." We had 8,000 people play that game for eight weeks. They came up with 500 insanely creative solutions that you can go online, Google "Superstruct," and see. So, finally, the last game, we're launching it March 3rd. This is a game done with the World Bank Institute. If you complete the game, you will be certified by the World Bank Institute as a Social Innovator, class of 2010. Working with universities all over sub-Saharan Africa, and we are inviting them to learn social innovation skills. We've got a graphic novel, we've got leveling up in skills like local insight, knowledge networking, sustainability, vision and resourcefulness. I would like to invite all of you to please share this game with young people, anywhere in the world, particularly in developing areas, who might benefit from coming together to try to start to imagine their own social enterprises to save the world.
So, I'm going to wrap up now. I want to ask a question. What do you think happens next? We've got all these amazing gamers, we've got these games that are kind of pilots of what we might do, but none of them have saved the real world yet. Well I hope you will agree with me that gamers are a human resource that we can use to do real-world work, that games are a powerful platform for change. We have all these amazing superpowers: blissful productivity, the ability to weave a tight social fabric, this feeling of urgent optimism and the desire for epic meaning.
I really hope that we can come together to play games that matter, to survive on this planet for another century. That's my hope, that you will join me in making and playing games like this. When I look forward to the next decade, I know two things for sure: that we can make any future we can imagine, and we can play any games we want, so I say: Let the world-changing games begin.