I was inspired by Jane McGonigal's New Yorker talk on Saving the World Through Game Design. Like Shufflebrain, Jane is designing and championing games that embrace the real world. I particularly like her thinking about the "economy of engagement":
These ideas capture the mechanisms that keep people involved in MMOs -- and in a good work situation as well. It's no wonder so many people are intrigued with the idea of applying an MMO framework to getting work done.
However, MMOs and jobs -- and Jane's ARG games -- are time-intensive experiences. I'm VERY interested in how these ideas apply to lightweight social games that are quick to play and accessible to people with limited free time -- AKA a busy working Mom, like me. Or like the millions of casual game players who can take a few minutes a day to play a fun game.
Any thoughts about this? Do you know of any lightweight casual games that offer a satisfying "economy of engagment" without the overhead and grind of an MMO?
"The sheer compulsion of reliable and almost immediate reward is being linked to similar chemical systems in the brain that may also play a part in drug addiction. So we should not underestimate the 'pleasure' of interacting with a screen when we puzzle over why it seems so appealing to young people."
I completely agree -- feedback systems are powerful drivers of behavior, and social networks provide almost constant feedback with variable reward size - AKA the classic "one-armed bandit" variable reinforcement schedule that diabolically addictive. She continues:
"It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations. We know that the human brain is exquisitely sensitive to the outside world."
She's right -- we are HIGHLY adaptable creatures. Our brains are wired differently than our ancestors, because we grew up in a different world. Books, telephones, movies, TV, and video games have dramatically changed the entertainment and communications landscape for humans - and inevitably shaped our brains.
Our kids are growing up with social networks -- not to mention a dizzying variety of compelling computer games. Kids often communicate as fluidly online as they do in person. For them, it's not about whether you're online or F2F, it's all part of the flow of communicating, socializing, and staying in touch.
Which brings us to this post by Sarah Lacy on why Social Networks Are Good for the Kids In refuting Lady Greenfield's conclusions, Sarah points out:
...like a lot of people who don’t actually use these sites, she’s missing a fundamental shift from Web 1.0 chat room days to Web 2.0 social networks: Real identity. We no longer “go to the Internet” to interact with some shadowy user name where we pretend to be someone we’re not. Ok, maybe people on Second Life do. But sites like Facebook and Twitter are more about extending your real identity and relationships online. That’s what makes them so addictive: The little endorphin rushes from reconnecting with an old friend, the ability to passively stay in touch with people you care about but don’t have the time to call everyday.
Bingo. That's the unpredictable payoff of social networks - you never know who's going to show up next, or connect with you, or post an intriguing status update or photo. SNS's keep you lightly connected to a larger group of people, and enable you to stay in touch via a shared digital lifestream of status updates, photos, videos, notes, and affiliations. You get to know a different side to people - and when you see them in person, you have more context for what's going on.
Whether it's movies, TV, videogames, slot machines, or even books, humans will always compelled AND shaped by new technologies. Some people will abuse new technologies - that's a given. Check out the cheap slots in Vegas, or the sad stories from WOW widows, or neglected convalescent patients drooling in front of an always-on TV, to see that phenomenon in action.
As a parent - and former Neuroscientist - I embrace new technology knowing full well that it will shape our brains. How could it not? We're born to adapt -- and our technologies are an increasingly big part of our environment. Rather than bemoaning this inevitable fact, I think it's more forward-thinking and practical to embrace our brain plasticity, and learn how to use the technoligies in a healthy, life-enhancing way.
The very things that most appeal to Second Life's hardcore enthusiasts are either boring or creepy for most people: Spending hundreds of hours of effort to make insignificant amounts of money selling virtual clothes, experimenting with changing your gender or species, getting into random conversations with strangers from around the world, or having pseudo-nonymous sex (and let's not kid ourselves, sex is a huge draw into Second Life). As part of walking my "beat," I'd get invited by sources to virtual nightclubs, where I'd right-click the dancefloor to send my avatar gyrating as I sat at home at my computer. It was about as fun as watching paint dry.Virtual worlds (and especially gaming worlds) are great sources of entertainment. They're immersive destinations where you go to escape from your everyday life. And immersive escapism -- via books, movies, TV, and games -- is often what entertainment is all about.
I'm a big fan of thatgamecompany here in lovely Santa Monica. Their games - flOw, Cloud, and flower - are visually arresting, family-friendly, and move at a different pace than most games - particularly console games. As Dean Takahashi at VentureBeat says of Flower:
It takes you to a primal emotional level, like you feel when you watch a good IMAX nature film. Some people might very well find this boring since there are no guns and no fast-action button-mashing. But I see it as a breath of fresh air.
Bingo. For last night's Family Movie Night, we watched Planet Earth. My 2-year-old daughter focused on the animals and their babies; my 10-year-old science-loving son soaked up facts and details and loved the chase scenes; and Scott and I were mesmerized by the stunning visuals and sweeping story. Afterwards, we felt good -- energized -- uplifted with mind-stimulating entertainment.
I look forward to finding more games that can captivate our family -- bring us together -- leave us feeling energized -- like Flower, Rock Band, Karaoke Revolution, or a really good nature documentary. We're working on that Shufflebrain - bringing together media-sharing and braingames -- and we're inspired by brave visionaries like the folks at thatgamecompany
What games do you love to play as a family? What's your favorite family game? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments, or via email (amyjokim at gmail dot com)
Great post by Fred Wilson about the role of status updates in the digital/social ecosystem. Love this quote in particular:
The Next Woman - a "business magazine for female internet heros" -- just published an interview with Amy Jo Kim, CEO Shufflebrain.