Leveraging the Power of Gamers to Shape the Future

Brandon Sheffield, writer for Gamasutra, covered Jane McGonigal’s talk at the Game Developer’s Conference, which is going on this week.  In her talk, Ms. McGonigal made some very poignant remarks about the nature of massively multiplayer online games (MMO’s), why they’re so successful, and how there’s true potential in the medium.  Of course, her remarks have some powerful implications for educational gaming:

Positive psychology is coming to the conclusion that multiplayer games are the ultimate sustainer of happiness.

This observation is based on her research that MMO’s replicate what she feels humans crave:  satisfying work, the experience of being good at something, spending time with people we like, and being part of something bigger than ourselves.

She goes on to suggest that virtual game worlds provide a space that fosters collaboration.  Based on the estimated time it took to create Wikipedia (~100 million mental hours), she says that the collective time and efforts of World of Warcraft players could create it in five days.  She then goes on to make a statement that, could easily be applied to education in these sorts of environments:

There’s no reason why we can’t take real world work and real world problems and seductively conceal it in a game world. Gamers have no problem doing work and doing collaborative things, you just have to figure out how to make them care about it.

In my view, that’s one of the key potentials of serious games, especially virtual worlds.  They provide a context and environment in which students work together toward a shared goal.  The challenge of what she mentions will be providing quality instruction and learning goals that are meaningful to the learners while not being particularly overt about it.