I recently read Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, which I highly recommend. I think she definitely presents some points and examples through a lens that suits her ends, but in her defence, many games and gaming environments do lend themselves well to the examples she brings up.

That said, she provides fantastic insights into how not only gamers tick, but all of us, and how games can be used for ends far greater (and often more noble), than just sheer entertainment. I think a lot of us fail to recognize game elements when they pop up in foreign environments because we have strong pre-conceived Monopoly and Pong notions of what a game is or game mechanics are. (Replace those italicized examples with whatever fits your generation.) 🙂

A common theme throughout the book was collaboration. Gamers collaborating to achieve goals in-game. Gamers collaborating online to document and discuss their games. Gamers working together to solve big problems or achieve big rewards both online and in the “real world”. It’s one of the biggest positives that gaming culture has and will impart to young people now, who will be inheriting a lot of those aforementioned big problems.

Given what I do for a living, these concepts of community building and collaboration are fascinating to me. Even outside of my professional ponderings, how people tick has always gotten my cerebral juices flowing, and how to engage people is a never-ending creative quest both in the gaming world and the corporate one.

But… funny thing… It was really hard to see myself in this world she was describing.

I’m not much of a gamer. Perhaps a game or two of Bejeweled to kill time if I’m waiting somewhere. I can get mildly obsessed with something new for a few days at most. While so many people I know are still feverishly launching birds into pigs, I think I managed to stay interested in Angry Birds for almost a week, and that was some time last summer or fall. Haven’t touched it since.

As illustrated by the two games I just mentioned, I also tend to play single-person games. I have played Rock Band on a few rare occasions, but admittedly, there was only one other person there, so the ideal recipe for fun was not achieved. I think I have battled someone in Mario Kart once. I have never played anything like World of Warcraft, and freely admit to a degree of prejudice against games like that as a result of some past experiences. Even offline games like Euchre I’ve played so few times that I have to have it re-explained to me every time I do play.

Simply a result of the type of social sphere I have? Sure, to a point, but if I really wanted to play games, I’d be doing so. And if I wanted to play games with others, I’d find folks who’re up for it.

So perhaps the disconnect for me is that I’m not much of a gamer, but my “real world” position, particularly career-wise, places me as more of the designer or dungeonmaster, the person who would conceive of, develop, and orchestrate games. Because I do not immerse in the former, it hamstrings me to wrap my brain around the latter. To that end, I did look upon this book as something of a potential textbook, rather than just leisure reading.

I think the issue goes further, though, too. Remember doing group work projects in school? Did you like it? I hated it. I didn’t like the responsibility for people who might slack off without the authority to make them pull their weight. I like control over what work I produce, so I did not react well to the idea that, for example, 75% of the work I was going to get graded on was work whose production I wasn’t even going to be present for. Sure, on a few occasions I was paired with control freak over-achievers like myself, and their efforts were awesome, but that’s the exception, rather than the rule. Even sometimes when I was in enrichment classes.

So while I understand the concept of a raid, and the considerable logistical effort required to successfully complete one, it kinda strikes me as really big, online group work. Sure, in a game environment these are gamers, so they’re bringing their best efforts you’d hope, but still.

Even in the types of problem-solving groups McGonigal covers, I get thinking about all the different ideas generated, and the fact that you can’t, as a group, explore or develop all of them. So which one gets chosen? Do the people whose ideas aren’t chosen really throw themselves heart and soul into developing someone else’s idea? Even if they want to, can they do their best work if they don’t necessarily fundamentally understand it the same, or “right” way because they didn’t conceive of it, and in their heads it lives as a single idea, not within the mental ecosystem that bore it?

And what about the ideas that fall by the wayside? What if one of them would truly save the world, and group consensus picked the wrong one? Stuff like that bugs me, so, unsurprisingly, it feels “safer”, more efficient, to work on your own thing. Then you know where it comes from, how it gets developed, what it’s going to effect.

And, if you get stuck and want a fresh perspective, that can come from anyone else. Whereas in a group, even if you have different roles, you’re all working on the same project, so you’re all going to be “tainted” by the common understanding, direction, and activities of the project.

Of course, I am also a grownup and have worked in the corporate world for some time, so I know very well that most projects don’t – and can’t – work that way. Of course, how many work projects have you been as passionate about and as invested in as you have been in your gaming endeavors…? That, too, is one of McGonigal’s points. There is something incredible there, if only it can be sparked and harnessed.

There is, too, the distinction between those who prefer to work alone and maintain control, but who do have leadership abilities and interests, and can move into that role in a group settings, and those who don’t and just truly prefer to work alone. I think the desire for control and the importance of maintaining the overall project could compel such people into leadership roles, but how good is a leader going to be who doesn’t necessarily want to be there?

Now, all that said, I don’t think having a non-collaborative bent is a bad thing when you’re in a community-based role. In fact, I think it’s actually an important trait. Wait – what? How can you have a job where it’s your responsibility to build, moderate, encourage and educate the community if you don’t like being part of it?

Well, that’s not quite how it shakes out. But that’s a discussion for another time.

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