Once upon a time as a teenager, I recall being exposed to a book called Future Shock by futurist Alvin Toffler. Along with many wild and outlandish predictions about the future, Toffler described the shock component of his book’s title as being “too much change, in too short a period of time”.
That quote may well characterize the plight of many of us in today’s society and in particular those of us interested in the ever changing landscape of MMO and video game production.
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about the future of video games. Many of us are contemplating the meteoric financial success of social networking games like Farmville and are scratching our collective heads and wondering what it all means for both game designers and players.
While doing research for an upcoming article for my website I stumbled across an video of Carnegie Mellon University Professor Jesse Schell’s amazing Feb 2010 Design Outside the Box talk at D.I.C.E. (Design Innovate Communicate Entertain). I originally planned on using this video in that article but I have since decided it’s just far too good and deserves special mention on its own.
If you are even remotely interested in the possible future of our culture and video games — are wondering why things are the way they are — then this is probably the best 28 minutes you’ll spend. Sit back and enjoy!
1) this will never happen to the extent that Jesse seems to think it will.
there are many reasons it won’t happen, but the main reason, and the most often overlooked, is that we simply don’t have the natural resources to support this kind of throwaway technology. as we use up our current resources, the price of those resources gets higher and higher, which increases the price of the throwaway technology that this system depends on… not to mention all the pollution and waste created by something like this.
2) if this does somehow happen, it will lead to the collapse of humanity.
i’m sure you’re familiar with Hecker’s Nightmare (if not, google it right now). he clearly explains the relationship between tasks and external rewards… for example, the more you reward a task like brushing your teeth, the less important the task becomes (the less you value that task)… people will no longer brush their teeth because it’s healthy… they’ll just brush them for the points.
now it seems a little extreme that you and i would just quit caring about making healthy choices because some point system was added to help encourage us to make good choices… but we have years of operating without a point system that has allowed us to create our own value system… however, consider a child that is born 20 years after implementing a system like this, born directly into a society that operates on a point based system… they would lack the background knowledge that we have and would never form the proper values or understand why things are important… points would be the only thing they know, they would go where the points are the highest and would basically lack the ability to think for themselves or form their own values.
children born into a society like this would be fully dependent on whoever is setting the point values… and don’t even get me started on all the possible corruption that would occur in a system like this…
Jesse Schell is a pretty charismatic speaker, in his own kinda nerdy way… he makes you want to gloss over all the flaws in logic and buy into his idea… so i don’t blame people for being taken in by this… but anyone with half a brain should be able to see how much more harm this would do than good.
Jesse Schell’s talk at DICE was covered in a lot of places. It was either praised as the brave new world or the Brave New World. My tendency was to be in the latter camp, thinking that Schell was encouraging subtle (maybe…) forms of behavioral control given that he basically told Zynga that they were “stupid” to not have a slot machine, one of the most psychologically manipulative and potentially financially harmful game systems around. I’m always wary whenever a game developer brings up gambling with “real” money; gambling is regulated in a lot of places for a very good reason.
Although I wouldn’t consider it a full recant of his previous talk, Jesse did give a different tone to his talk at the GDC. The attitude was more of a cautionary tale about us heading toward the Brave New World (referenced directly as the worse alternative to 1984). He basically says that the people who care about game’s effects on society need to make sure that the people solely focused on money don’t dominate how games develop.
What happened? I suspect that Schell was giving the same talk to different audiences: games are cool and you should totally be paying attention to game development! The audience at DICE tends to be more executive, so he put the pitch in terms of how well game design can push product and advance business. The audience at GDC is crusty old veterans looking for some morsel of hope and swarms of idealistic wannabes, so he pitched that they can be masters of the future to fire them up.
End result? People who want someone to help them move games into the future are going to call him for consulting. In the short term, it’s going to be toothbrush and toothpaste and other companies looking to find out ways to give points to people for consuming their products. In the long term it’ll be those wannabes who stick with games and form their own companies and become dismayed about how game design is being used to manipulate people and remember, “there was this one guy at the GDC those years ago who talked about this….”
Always be wary of people who know a lot about psychology and how to use it to influence people. And, yes, that includes most game designers like me.