Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gaming the World Into a Better Place

Andrew Klavan, in his review of Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken, thinks that games should retain a strong separation from the real world:

While certainly one must agree with Ms. McGonigal—or indeed with Mary Poppins—that there is an element of fun to every job that must be done and if you find the fun, then—snap!—the job's a game, the possibilities seem to me fairly limited. As Tom Sawyer learned, "work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and . . . play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do." If ever we're all dragooned into "playing" for the dreary objectives of utopian dreamers, the fun will go out of gaming very quickly.

While I largely agree with Mr. Klavan here,  I think he's missing places where this already happens: the pilots of UAVs may not be playing a game, but they're using a lot of the same skills, even more so than pilots who first learned to fly on computer sims.  He's also ignoring the rather playful futures markets based around predicting political events like elections.  And finally, there's things like this:


I think you can turn Mr. Klavan's objection on its head, and arrive at a more interesting truth: things we don't need to be forced or bribed to do can be called play.  Even if they are, in spite of all that, good for us.

4 comments:

Greg Christopher said...

I have to side with Klevan here, Brian. Your example of the stairs only works because it is unusual. If every set of stairs worked like that, it would become bland and eventually annoying.

I actually quit playing video games because I realized they were actually work. Go here, get that, bring it back, try to solve this basic puzzle, rinse, repeat. Boring. Hence my return to RPGs after an intense 10 year video game addiction.

faustusnotes said...

Trollsmyth, is this quote a political comment, something about not allowing political ideas from the real world into gaming? (i.e. is it some sort of veiled anti-political correctness stance)? Or is it about not allowing real world mundanity (such as elements of work) into gaming? I interpreted it as the former, but from Greg's response I'm not sure.

trollsmyth said...

Greg: I don't disagree with Klavan as far as he goes; the fun of pretty much anything would pale fast if I was forced to do it every day. You can see this effect in elementary schools all across the country, after all.

That said, I think there's a place for incentives and creativity in the dullest parts of life. That's why I usually carry a novel around with me, especially if I know I'm going to end up waiting around someplace.

In large part, yes, the stairs work because they are unique. But more than that, they work at all because you have the choice of an escalator right beside them. There'd be no point in making stairs you have to take musical.

This is where I think Mr. Klavan's argument falls down. Games are literally about choices. Without choices, you have no game. Even Candyland offers choices. Making the stairs musical and then taking away the escalator, which is what Mr. Klavan fears, would defeat the purpose of making the stairs musical.

Granted, he's worried about government intervention, so stupidity of that magnitude is hardly beyond reasonable expectations. Xp

Faustusnotes: More like, he worries about people co-opting games for political purposes, and thereby sucking all the fun out of them. Even if they turn filling out your tax forms into some sort of online pinball game, it's still filling out a tax form, and the pinball version is likely to be simply annoying, and never fun.

Zac in VA said...

Taking the escalator away would also suck for folks who aren't using the elevator but who have some physical disability. Another reason to leave ze choice intact!

I'm a Marxist-Leninist who's a regular political activist. Politics is a big part of my life.
When I role-play, I find that I enjoy giving games the trappings of my political interests, but I would rather stop playing and talk politics directly than "game" about politics.
That may change. But yeah.

@Greg: video games can absolutely be a lot of work! I love reaching that point when I realize it's not fun anymore, and then going off to do something else. So refreshing!