Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 11 – The Engagement Economy

This continues the Readalong by Erik van Mechelen of Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’ with insights from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework. For in-depth discussions of this book and others, join Octalysis Prime.

tl;dr More people than ever are online; how can we get some of their participation bandwidth into large-scale projects for good?

Summary

McGonigal makes the case that if we divert attention to large-scale projects like Wikipedia, Investigate your MP’s Expenses, FoldIt, and Free Rice, essentially projects for large-scale or global good for an extended period of time (through long-term design), we can collectively make the world a better place.

Analysis

McGonigal correctly finds potential in success stories like Wikipedia, Investigate your MP’s Expenses, FoldIt, and Free Rice for political activism, scientific problem solving, and fundraising.

She draws attention to the problem of attention. How can we convince people to play a little less World of Warcraft or a little less time on Facebook (both autotelic activities) and a bit more of their participation bandwidth on these crowd-sourced efforts?

Two comments. The first is about Facebook. In 2011, when this book was published, Facebook wasn’t as powerful as it is today. Its algorithms are stronger and more convincing, perhaps more addictive. I’d argue that Facebook is still autotelic. In my personal case, my Facebook feed doesn’t offer that much world-changing interest. Facebook’s advertising system is a lot stronger now, so my feed includes ads I didn’t ask for 🙂

If spending time on Facebook is an increasing waste of time, this actually may work to the benefit of projects competing for “brain cycles and heartshare” and “better or more competitive engagement.”

Even so, there are better distractions online than ever before. In my view, movements toward a more altruistic and productive and well-being approach (like timewellspent.io) represent the future I want to live in.

What do you think?

What crowd-sourced online initiatives have you participated in this year?

Let me know in the comments or on Octalysis Prime‘s community (paywall).

Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 10 – Happiness Hacking

This continues the Readalong by Erik van Mechelen of Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’ with insights from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework. For in-depth discussions of this book and others, join Octalysis Prime.

tl;dr Use games in physical places to form habits. 

Summary

This chapter is about how alternate realities can help us adopt the daily habits of the world’s happiest people. McGonigal provides explanations of 3 games she helped design.

She also relays the trouble of thinking about positive psychology as ‘self-help’, and poses strategies to overcoming this cynical psychological barrier and actually implementing gameful design in our lives.

Analysis

In describing Cruel 2 Be Kind (a game about using random acts of kindness to eliminate opponents and inspire ‘victims’ in crowds), and Tombstone Hold’em (a real-life spatial poker game played in cemeteries requiring creative movement, and Top Secret Dance Off (a formal creative dance competition on a YouTube-esque online site), McGonigal stresses the concept of sneaking up on happiness. She draws this from John Stuart Mill’s observation that when approaching happiness directly, it is often elusive.

In succession, the games mentioned above provide a “dopamine hit” (when others smile first), a grateful physiological state known as “posttraumatic bliss” in appreciating the present moment, and euphoria through dance and movement.

Creating habits is easy, but breaking habits isn’t. The trick, then, to creating new habits, is in part about reducing the number of bad habits so as to create space for new ones.

Ultimately, these games are ways to actually practice good advice (being kind to others, reflecting on death/mortality, and moving to music.

More interestingly, none of these require an app.

What do you think?

What games have you played in real life without technology?

Let me know in the comments or on Octalysis Prime‘s community (paywall).

Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 9 – Fun with Strangers

This continues the Readalong by Erik van Mechelen of Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’ with insights from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework. For in-depth discussions of this book and others, join Octalysis Prime.

tl;dr Use collaboration, creation, and contribution to create alternate reality games to create new real-world communities.

Summary

McGonigal explores how alternate reality games can create new real-world communities by looking into Comfort of Strangers (helping people learn how to offer and receive comfort), Ghosts of Chance (a game to reinvent membership), and Bounce (a game to bridge the generation gap between people).

Analysis

The most interesting part of this chapter for me are the consistent drives inherent to making each of these games work.

Comfort of Strangers works primarily through Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity, because you don’t know who is a lover or a dancer (good or bad guy) in the game.

Ghosts of Chance works through building intrigue around a cause (helping a museum gain membership), through Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling.

Finally, Bounce uses Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness to connect people of differing ages.

I really like McGonigal’s attention to overriding themes in each of these games, primarily collaboration, creation, and contribution. She wants to help people imagine how behavior design can impact our real world spaces and interactions and relationships.

What do you think?

Which real-world communities could benefit from additional intrinsic motivational design?

Let me know in the comments or on Octalysis Prime‘s community (paywall).

Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 8 – Leveling Up in Life

This continues the Readalong by Erik van Mechelen of Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’ with insights from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework. For in-depth discussions of this book and others, join Octalysis Prime.

tl;dr Games that add value to life are worth creating.

Summary

In this chapter, McGonigal introduces us to games that accompany real life activities, explaining how their inclusion of intrinsic motivation alleviates boredom (JetSetter), stems anxiety (Day in the Clouds), makes us run harder (Nike+), and hang out with friends more in new places (Foursquare).

It is a great survey of the underlying studies and behavioral psychology.

Analysis

The examples in this chapter won’t surprise anyone reading in 2017, but I was drawn into a reflection on Foursquare, a popular app that is no longer high on the App Store charts.

McGonigal rightly points out that instead of instead of a game that rewards you for what you’re already doing, like Nike+, Foursquare “it’s a game that rewards you for doing new things, and making a better effort to be social.”

Designers will notice a problem here, however. Once I ‘rediscover’ (if I ever forgot) that hanging out with friends is a fun and healthy activity, I can stop using the app. If I take this undesired action (for Foursquare), all I lose is a digital ‘Mayorship’, which, unless you are someone who gets really attached to things that don’t exist, is easy to give let go.

Creating Endgames is one of the most challenging elements of behavior design in any experience.

What do you think?

What games are adding value to your life?

Let me know in the comments or on Octalysis Prime‘s community (paywall).

Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 7 – The Benefits of Alternate Realities

This continues the Readalong by Erik van Mechelen of Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’ with insights from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework. For in-depth discussions of this book and others, join Octalysis Prime.

tl;dr Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) [not to be confused with Augmented Reality AR], are games designed to be played in the real world, which make difficult activities more rewarding, build up new real-world communities, and help us adopt the daily habits of the world’s happiest people in our own everyday lives.

Summary

McGonigal moves into the promising area of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), with great examples like Chore Wars, Quest to Learn, and SuperBetter, which helped her recover from a traumatic brain injury.

Different to standard games, ARGs offer the opportunity to make real differences in the real world, in real lives.

Analysis

McGonigal’s opening anecdote made me smile:

And it just so happens that ridding our real-world kingdom of toilet stains is worth more experience points, or XP, than any other chore in the Land of the 41st-Floor Ninjas.

McGonigal once again shows how immersed she has been in testing and creating all sorts of games throughout her life.

McGonigal moves into the depths of Chore Wars with anecdotes from other users around the world. Basically, Chore Wars brings out competitive spirit and collaboration with a steady does of accomplishment.

What’s more, Chore Wars is “a game that you win even if you lose. Kiyash has the satisfaction of being the best ninja on the forty-first floor, and I have the pleasure of doing fewer chores than my husband–at least until my competitive spirit kicks back in. Not to mention, it’s more enjoyable to be partners in crime when it comes to housework, instead of nagging each other about chores.

Fix #7: Wholehearted Participation

Compared with games, reality is hard to get into. Games motivate us to participate more fully in whatever we’re doing.

McGonigal reminds us that “to participate wholeheartedly in something means to be self-motivated and self-directed, intensely interested and genuinely enthusiastic. 

  • If we’re forced to do something, or if we do it halfheartedly, we’re not really participating.
  • If we don’t care how it all turns out, we’re not really participating.
  • If we’re passively waiting it out, we’re not really participating.

Along with other ARG designers one day on Twitter, McGonigal came upon another definition capturing the spirit of ARGs: alternate realities are the antiescapist game.

This is a cool way to think of them. Instead of retreating to games, we are bringing the best of design and experience design and motivation and mechanics to real-world situations.

Quest to Learn is the next big example, which combines various game mechanics and techniques and overall design into the classroom. This isn’t Khan Academy or Montesorri, but some mix of characteristics that make learning engaging for students with the right amount of challenge, encouraging them through missions, quests, and collaborative exploration and problem-solving.

I might Katie Salen, author of Rules of Play and researcher of how kids learn by playing games, at a discussion at Target in 2012. She led the Quest to Learn curriculum design.

Quest to Learn, in effect, is the precursor to ClassDojo and other gameful design (including digital systems) in the classroom.

SuperBetter was the game McGonigal designed to help herself battle and defeat a traumatic brain injury.

Either I’m going to kill myself or I’m going to turn this into a game.

SuperBetter’s story is well-known, but it centers on turning recovery into a multiplayer experience in 5 steps:

  1. Create your SuperBetter secret identity
  2. Recruit your allies
  3. Find the bad guys
  4. Identify your power-ups
  5. Create your superhero to-do list

By baking cookies for neighbors and many other tasks, McGonigal “suffered a great deal less during the recovery as a direct result of the game.”

Next, McGonigal moves into a recap of types of ARGs discussed in the chapter.

Life-management ARG: like Chore Wars

Organizational ARG: like Quest to Learn

Concept ARG: Like SuperBetter

They are also live event ARGs which gather players at physical locations and narrative ARGs which use multimedia storytelling (like McGonigal’s New York Public Library game, combining both).

Finally, McGonigal’s reminder of the critical essay, “Creating the Play Community” by Bernie DeKoven in The New Games Book is a reminder of her design ethos.

I’ve read McGonigal’s 500-page thesis about performative play, and it is a useful viewpoint because it brings a different lens than most game designers and experience designers currently in the business.

What do you think?

Have you played any Alternate Reality Games? (Does Pokemon Go count? Maybe. It is definitely an augmented reality game that gets you walking around and talking to people in the real world, so sure!)

What do you think? What Alternate Reality Game should we create together?

Let me know in the comments or on Octalysis Prime‘s community (paywall).