Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Closing Thought: Flawed McGonigal

You may want to catch up on the Dr. Jane McGonigal talk before reading this.

I want to start by saying I hold a great deal of respect for Dr. McGonigal, her passion, and her drive. However, I believe her premise as stated at SXSW contains fundamental flaws.

She believes that ARG's should exist to provide a gaming environment over our life that creates a sense of happiness (read accomplishment or self-actualization) by allowing us to 'know the rules.' We get points for doing the designed tasks and achievements. Basically, she contends that life is unfair, many of us are 'bad' at it, and that by having gaming rules overlaid upon our life all this will change. Game designers can design you into happiness.

That's great if you're a designer.

However, I hope people will think twice, three times, and more about handing over their sense of worth to any designer, no matter how talented and benevolent. No one knows what you want more than yourself. Generalized metrics can help point our way, but surrendering our sense of self to an automated construct that restricts our ability to customize individual modes and measurements of success isn't one step removed from tyranny, it is tyranny.

And dismissing corporations as only the money people that allow designers to create whatever they want is foolishness. I think we can confidently accept that the company funding the project also gets a say in the rules and thus gets to make the rules we must then play by.

So if you want to make life a game, you better first make damn sure you like the process of design that creates the game. If it isn't democratic and wholly responsive to the voice of the gamers, count me out. I can make up my own rules and live up to them just fine.

I'll be quite happy doing so.


WriTerGuy said...

Dude. We're game designers, not fashion designers. If you were to go after fashion designers as trying to get the masses to surrender a sense of self and restrict people's ability to customize individual modes, then you might find a little traction. As it is, though, it's a game. You can just walk away.

Michael Trice said...

It's a matter of scope, and her scope was changing the world. That burden requires close inspection of the form of change.

I take it from your response, that like most powerbrokers, you're reticent to give total editing control back to your constituents, the gamers. ;)

Honestly, I'm not too worried because I think technology shows that people'll take that power, whatever the designer or corps want.

Not all will walk away. Some'll revolt and make it their own. So be careful the design you put out there is one you can live under with someone else (or a mob of someone elses) in control of your design.

It's a matter of historical perspective and civic responsibility. And it's exciting that we can do so this way.

If we make life a game, then it's life we're discussing. And we've known for more than 1,000 years that the unexamined life is a life not worth living.

WriTerGuy said...

"Like most powerbrokers, you're reticent to give total editing control back to your constituents, the gamers. ;)"
Actually, if you take a look at WORLD WITHOUT OIL, which is my design, you'll see that this assumption is on shaky ground. It's an alternate reality game that surrendered control to its players to an unprecedented degree - crowdsourcing the game story. Kick around a bit on and you'll see what I mean.

Michael Trice said...

I've heard great things about it and am glad to hear you working in that direction.

If we keep it ethical and keep discussing what that means, then the global community should be okay--or certainly better.

However, I admit that I based my statements more on your post here than your design history. Dr. McGonigal also was involved with Oil, but we must still evaluate her philosophy as a whole, including unintended consequences.

If it continues to move toward open design and democratic rule-building, I see far less danger in her concepts of game design as life design. However, I certainly believe we possess a moral obligation to remain critical in our evaluation to ensure we move toward ethical design. That means questioning whether choices are democratic and the nature of corporate influence.

We have to decide what ethical means to all of us, each of us. It's a constant discussion.