Last week while on a kitchen cleaning binge, I listened to Jan McGonigal’s keynote presentation from SXSWi 2008. (That links directly to the MP3.)

This is the speaker blurb they published for her:

Game designer and future forecaster Jane McGonigal takes play seriously. Currently a senior researcher at the Institute for the Future, Jane McGonigal writes and speaks about the power of digital games, virtual worlds, and other immersive experiences to change reality and to shape our future. As a game designer, she creates massively multi-player experiences that are doing just that. She specializes in collaborative games that blur the line between virtual worlds and the real world. Previously, she was a lead designer at 42 Entertainment, the company that invented the genre of alternate reality games and created the award-winning “I Love Bees.” More recently, McGonigal designed the “World Without Oil” game, a collaborative online simulation of a global oil shortage. She has a PhD in performance studies from the University of California. MIT Technology Review named her as one of the world’s top innovators under the age of 35.

I’m not much of a gamer, as is probably obvious, but given the number of geeks in my social sphere, the culture is all around me. Sometimes this has been a good thing. Sometimes… really not. 🙂

The slant of the presentation was what really got me. It wasn’t just about the future of shooter games or how wildly popular MMORPGs are. She talked about why gamers immerse themselves in these worlds, the social and psychological needs game worlds fill, and the potential uses and benefits of applying game theory and design to real life. (I admit to date my experience with much of this type of information has been overwhelmingly negative, so it was valuable, if hard to swallow, perspective.)

The keynote dovetailed nicely with the book I’m currently reading: Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter. The argument being that, yes, kids these days watch TV and play video games and hang out on the internets, but it’s not actually ruining them.

The book outlines the evolution of popular culture over the last few decades; the one major argument being that tv, for example, has gotten vastly more complex, and requires considerably more mental work from the audience than shows of old did, where everything was explained, telegraphed, and neatly wrapped up at the end of each episode. (24 and Lost… not so much.)

All in all, some very interesting food for thought, and some insight into the potential of the new realities we are creating. Everything from hanging out with your friends to buying a new pair of jeans is changing (and even if it’s already changed it’s still changing), and it ain’t the folks grousing about how no one reads anymore who are going to be best positioned to thrive there.

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