How You Saved the World Today in Your Spare Time (AF)

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aina-dlAs promised, this week I will be extrapolating on a subject I’ve recently introduced: the EVE Online gaming conference in Reykjavík, and why playing video games could potentially save the world!

Well, that’s a bit strong. But there is value in exploring the application of tactics in a virtual world that holds important implications for political processes that, let’s face it, in their current state in our real world are not as effective as we hope they could be.

As I mentioned last column, one of the paradigms of EVE Online is that it’s a single shard virtual world, meaning our actions could be consequential for the 250,000 other players that are part of the same cohesive EVE Online universe.

This week I received a letter from a reader, Fred Golke, who had some very interesting ideas about the EVE Online paradigm and its applications.

He himself proved the attraction of gaming across generations, starting out his letter as such: “Dare I, an old man, a really old man, send an idea to a young person like yourself? I'm 82 and you're 25. That's a gap of about two generations! To you, I probably look like Methuselah.”

Fred, dare you may.

As Fred savvily goes on, he points out that 250,000 people, the same number of people your actions could affect in part of the same cohesive EVE Online universe, is close to the number of Iceland’s number of electoral voters, which as of March 6, 2010 was 229,926.

He hits it on the nose when he goes on to say, “your description of EVE lit my fire with the thought that it could demonstrate the practicality of an idea.” Mine, too, Fred.

In essence, the application of strategy and of political participation that EVE Online offers could be extrapolated, or at least compared in effectiveness, to Iceland’s Constitutional Assembly, giving value to a model of participant democracy that could have larger implications for practice in the ‘real world’.

Jane McGonigal, Director of Game Research and Design at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California, explores these exact potential implications in her new book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

In her fantastic talk at a TED Conference, she describes the growth of “virtuoso gamers” across the world, the average of whom have spent 10,000 hours gaming before the age of 21. That’s the same amount of time an American teenager spends in classes in high school.

She goes on to describe the practice of gaming as a secondary education, teaching these virtuosos the importance of: urgent optimism – “desire to act immediately combined with belief that we have reasonable hope of success”, a tight social fabric – or the idea that we like and trust people we play games with as they are required to “spend their time with us, play with same rules, value same goal, etc.”, blissful productivity – or the idea that humans are happier working than relaxing and gamers are “willing to work hard all the time” in the context of the game, and lastly, epic meaning – or how gaming “builds [an] epic story and epic knowledge resource”. The World of Warcraft Wiki is apparently one of the largest wikis in the world.

She makes a great point in saying that gamers believe they are individually capable of changing the world, the only issue being that the world they are currently changing is virtual. They escape into the virtual world because they think their ability to achieve greater things is more viable there than in the real world.

But her thought is that the escapism into virtual reality doesn’t have to result in productivity exclusively in virtual reality. It can be extrapolated into the real world, and she has designed three such games that put into practice this idea of larger real world application: World Without Oil, Global Extinction Awareness System and Evoke.

To find out more, watch her TED talk here.

McGonigal’s enthusiasm and fantastic breakdown of gaming as a part of our collective history and current cultural dialogue are inspiring enough to make anyone pick up a consul.

Fred, I think you and Jane would get along.

Aina Fuller – ainafuller@gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.