For five days in a row I was wakened by the phone ringing early in the morning, someone on the other end gleefully stating: School is closed due to a snow day. It was winter 1993 or 1994, and we had a week of knee deep snow. For me, this meant a week of total immersion in Myst, played on our Macintosh LC 520 (our first Mac).
Equipped with my computer, the game, the journal, and my telephone, I spent hours upon hours navigating the terrain of this beautifully developed graphic world, searching for and solving the myriad puzzles, and taking detailed notes about where I was, what I was doing, and what I uncovered. While I was busy in my world of Myst, colleagues and students were busy on their home computers exploring their world of Myst. Anytime any one of us was stumped, help was just a phone call away. We were collectively immersed in this digital world that was playing out individually on each of our own computers; yet our collaborative problem solving was making this digital world seem real.
When we eventually returned to school the following week, we would stop and talk about Myst, sharing tales and descriptions that were equally familiar to each of us, as if we had all vacationed at the same resort. We acknowledged that tremendous satisfaction had come from uncovering and solving puzzles, from our telephone collaborations, and from having this shared yet individual experience.
Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken, describes 25 games that are immersive, collaborative and require problems to be solved. While these types of digital gaming are not new – as a teenager, our older son was attending and hosting lanfests in the late 1990s – McGonigal posits using digital gaming for social good, and all the games she lists are examples of her gaming-fix for a broken reality. (I am already imagining an upper school class on social responsibility, collaborative problem solving, the psychology of motivation and change…using McGonigal’s book along with Nudge and Drive.)
What fascinates me about her book is the discussion of gaming and the brain, specifically the positive feelings that game playing can produce and the role of intrinsic motivation. All these years later, I can still recall the euphoria felt while playing Myst.
McGonigal has done her research (noted throughout the book), and when it comes to intrinsic rewards she has concluded there are four categories. Here, from page 49, are the first lines of each of her four descriptions:
First and foremost, we crave satisfying work, every single day.
Second, we crave the experience, or at least the hope, of being successful.
Third, we crave social connection.
Fourth, and finally, we crave meaning, or the chance to be a part of something larger than ourselves.
She goes on to note that These four kinds of intrinsic rewards are the foundation for optimal human experience. Of course, it is not always easy or simple for people to engineer their lives to be filled with intrinsic motivation and the resulting intrinsic rewards.
Over the past four years I have explored the idea of motivation, and was reminded of a 2007 post that mentions a psychology book in use at the University of Purdue. The author, Edward Vockell, includes a chart on Intrinsic Motivation that smoothly meshes with the points McGonigal makes about the benefits of gaming.
Ultimately, McGonigal’s belief is that playing immersive, well-designed, collaborative games crafted to promote social well-being can help people to harvest more moments of intrinsic satisfaction and, at the same time, help solve some of the pressing, pending social, economic and climate issues facing the world.
As for my thought about an upper school class – hmm, organizing it in a way to attract gamers, playing the games referenced in McGonigal’s book, reading other books, reflecting, discussing and tapping into the experiences and hopes of these teens…
[April 26, 2011 UPDATE: John Hunter, who is a teacher among his many endeavors, has created the World Peace Game, a simulation that his 4th graders engage in to "explore the connectedness of the global community through the lens of the economic, social, and environmental crises and the imminent threat of war." He gives a TED Talk about the game which gave me (good) chills as I listened.]