Along with the usual news and excitement of the Game Developers Conference, going on this week in San Francisco, a speech by gaming guru Jane McGonigal stands out for one reason: She challenged game designers to actually make gamers happier.
McGonigal, the self-described "game designer, a games researcher, a future forecaster, and a very playful human being" and one of the 20 Most Important Women in Gaming, planted the seeds for GDC speech on her blog Avant Game. "Reality is broken. Why aren't game designers trying to fix it?" But if you think the argument is just another run-of-the-mill criticism of the violence, tension and attendant gore that pervades most videogames, then you're going to be sadly disappointed.
Instead, McGonigal has a set out a sequence of design challenges to future gamemakers run to the heart of what a game could be about: entertainment, boosting human happiness, and having real-world impact.
She explains that games can "fix" broken reality by making artificial reality "happier, smarter, more engaging, and more resilient." Given that some of McGonigal's previous projects have involved "World Without Oil"—a simulation intended to brainstorm and thus potentially avert a future post-peak oil crisis—McGonigal also foresees that over the next decade, game designers will become the "architects of extreme-scale collaboration" In particular, it's an important part of future games design to create "diverse massively-multiplayer communities [that] tackle real-world, open-ended problems." It'd be nice to think we could game our way to a solution to the world's issues, wouldn't it?
Here are McGonigal's five challenges:
1. If you could: Make one person measurably happier. Who would it be, and what game would you make for them?
2. If you could change: What one person does every day, or how one group thinks about one thing. What would you change, an how would your game do it?
3. If your game could get: 100 people to do one thing online. What would it be, and what would it add up to?
4. If you could make a game by: Embedding one micro-controlled board or one sensor in one physical object. What would it be, and how would you play with it?
5. If you could make a game that: Connects two unlikely communities to do one extraordinary thing together. Who would it be, and what would they collaborate on?
It's inspirational stuff, a pleasant intellectual contrast to the mindless hard-fragging first-person-shooter games we're all familiar with. And its hard to argue with. The challenges are typified in McGonigal's online global game "Top Secret Dance Off," which challenges participants to complete dance "quests" and e-mail in digital footage of themselves in action. The game relies on the principle that "dancing together = happy ... humiliated together = even happier." Check out the compiled video of some entrants for the recent Dance Quest 3: Dance In a Crosswalk. It'll make you smile.
Related: Women in Tech