Games For Change Festival, 2013
Rezwan Razani - July 07, 2013
It was a privilege to attend the Games for Change Festival in NYC in June and meet so many wonderful, creative people whom I hope to collaborate with on life-changing games. Here are some takeaways from the event.
What Problem am I trying to solve?
The purpose of design is to solve problems, and game design is no exception. Before you start coming up with ideas, you need to be certain of why you are doing it, and a problem statement is a way to state that clearly. Good problem statements tell both your goal and your constraints.
Very often, collaborators will be trying to solve quite different problems and not realize it if the problem hasn’t been clearly stated.
The profound effect of this is that it got me to drill down on the question, “What Problem am I trying to solve with this organization?” The answers surprised me.
Many of us are stuck in the rat race game, boring, repetitive, yet compelling, here described by Bright Eyes,
In this endless race for property and privilege to be won, we must run, we must run, we must run…
Approaching this from a different angle, Shellenberger and Nordhaus over at the Breakthrough Institute pose the question, “How do we create an urgent politics that is not apocalyptic?” To which I say - take a gaming approach.
Does that sound trivializing? It’s complicated.
Processing Ideas for The Energy Game
One thing I’ve decided I want to play, and win, is the energy game. And not an innocuous, made up game, or a game that imitates or mirrors life and is a safe sandbox to play in. I want to win the live action real epic game. Win in the real world. The sandbox games are great to supply some breathing room, run through some scenarios, and have space to think about it - but the objective is to make those connections translate to the real world, make those changes.
Now we need to define that game a bit better, and find collaborators. The constraints are, this game is a real world game. A massive, multiplayer, real world game in which we bring about a zero carbon footprint and switch over from fossil fuels to all renewable and all nuclear, and have a great time doing it. In which we reveal the mechanics of the actual game, and the motives, and bring about epic multiple wins.
A first stab at outlining the goals of this game are found in the Big Hairy Nuclear Energy Goal brainstorm [On LinkedIn. Web Post coming soon].
The Number one consideration of this ultimate energy game is that it must result in an ultimate global energy win. We can’t lose sight of this. It isn’t just about informing people or making them think, or to keep them busy, or to make them feel they’ve done something when they haven’t. It is ultimately about solving the global energy crisis and getting the whole planet to level up. Level up to what? To refined living a la Year Zero : )
Many other games can be deployed to educate, inform, entertain and divert folks along the way. There can be a lot of overlap between the real world progress and the games we make. Some things we’ve already thought about aren’t even games, such as the Fusion Experiment Tracker or the Fusion Philanthropy App. A lot of educational and “feel like you’re a part of the crew” games are also described in our games section.
Epic win at Life
In short, I want to see the “Epic Win at Life” face in the real world, Per Jane McGonigal:
An “Epic Win” is an outcome that is so extraordinarily positive you had no idea it was possible until you achieved it. And when you get there you are shocked to discover what you’re truly capable of. This is the face we need to see on millions of problem solvers as we tackle global problems.
Unfortunately, what we see is the “I’m not good at life” face. Most people feel we’re not as good in reality as we are in games. In games, people are motivated to do something that matters, inspired to collaborate and cooperate. They are mostly likely to get up after failure and try again.
To get there, we need (and have) Urgent Optimism (see also Standardized Optimism); A Tight Social Fabric, Blissful Productivity, and Epic Meaning.
The most important facet of this game is the tablecloth effect. If we want to get to a zero carbon footprint that means effectively removing most fossil fuels from the playing field and replacing them with nuclear and renewables - that represents major upheaval and is a wildly unrealistic goal. Think of the special interests you’re up against, the pension plans destabilized, the investments upset, the discombobulated jobs. This is major economic churn.
A visual metaphor here - when we play this game, we want it to be like pulling the oily black fossil fuel tablecloth out from under the fully functioning world. And we want the city - our institutions and sanity - to remain fairly stable. How do we pull off that trick? Inertia is on our side : )
Google’s “Niantic” + NIMBY
Mike Jones from Google gave the keynote at the Games for Change Festival and introduced Niantic, which can be thought of as a gaming platform. I’m still wrapping my head around it, but think it can be a great augmentation to the energy game. For starters, we can play NIMBY (or IMBY) with it. Start looking at the world through a new lens, imagining the energy supplies and visualizing the conflicts of interest present in every energy decision. It would reveal the avatars that would rise up to oppose certain moves - indeed, the people who feel connected to those special interests could come out and confront you, dressed in their avatar regalia or not - on the issue.
Yes, NIMBY is a good place to start. It’s how Elizabeth Bennet decided Darcy was OK. It’s about how people should ultimately decide the types of energy they like by appreciating the full impact of that energy on their environment, which is what their proverbial “Back Yard” is. Per Jesse Schell, “stories and games take place in Worlds.” This world is our back yard, our dungeon, our home. Let’s take it to the next level.