Pew Internet: Teens, Video Games and Civics

This excellent report came out a couple of weeks ago. It shows that the ubiquity and importance of video games, and game culture, is even bigger than many of us imagined. I explored some of this in a presentation a few years ago: Clues to the Future. I’m itching to keep running with some of those ideas, especially now that they’re being taken more seriously in business & technology circles (not by my doing, of course, but just from increased exposure in mainstream publications and the like).

Pew Internet: Teens, Video Games and Civics

The first national survey of its kind finds that virtually all American teens play computer, console, or cell phone games and that the gaming experience is rich and varied, with a significant amount of social interaction and potential for civic engagement….

The primary findings in the survey of 1,102 youth ages 12-17 include —

* Game playing is universal, with almost all teens playing games and at least half playing games on a given day.
* Game playing experiences are diverse, with the most popular games falling into the racing, puzzle, sports, action and adventure categories.
* Game playing is also social, with most teens playing games with others at least some of the time and can incorporate many aspects of civic and political life.

I’m especially interested in the universality of game playing. It reinforces more than ever the idea that the language of games is going to be an increasingly universal language. The design patterns, goal-based behaviors, playfulness — these are things that have to be considered over the next 5-10 years as software design accommodates these kids as they grow up.

The social aspect is also key: we have an upcoming generation that expects their online & software-based experiences to integrate into their larger lives; they don’t assume that various applications and contexts are separate, and feel pleasantly surprised (or disturbed) to discover they’re connected. They’ll have a different set of assumptions about connectedness.

Dibbell on the game-reality shift

Julian Dibbell has a marvelous post about how game realities are symptoms — sort of concentrated, more-obvious outcroppings — of a general shift in economic and cultural reality itself. The game’s the thing …

Online Games, Virtual Economies … Distinction between Play and Production

And I’m arguing, finally, that that relationship is one of convergence; that in the strange new world of immateriality toward which the engines of production have long been driving us, we can now at last make out the contours of a more familiar realm of the insubstantial—the realm of games and make-believe. In short, I’m saying that Marx had it almost right: Solidity is not melting into air. Production is melting into play.

Google Image Labeler, using game mechanics for swarm intel

I only just heard about the Google Image Labeler via the IAI mailing list.

Here’s a description:

You’ll be randomly paired with a partner who’s online and using the feature. Over a two-minute period, you and your partner will be shown the same set of images and asked to provide as many labels as possible to describe each image you see. When your label matches your partner’s label, you’ll earn points depending on how specific your label is. You’ll be shown more images until time runs out. After time expires, you can explore the images you’ve seen and the websites where those images were found. And we’ll show you the points you’ve earned throughout the session.

So, Google didn’t just assume people would tag images for the heck of it. They build in a points system. I have no idea if the points even mean anything ouside of this context, but it’s interesting to see a game mechanic of points incentive, in a contest-like format, being used to jump-start the collective intelligence gathering.

POSTSCRIPT:

Later in the day, I hear from James Boekbinder that this system was invented (if he has it right) by a mathematician named Louis Ahn, and Google bought it. He points to a great presentation Ahn has on Google Video about his approach.

Ahn’s description says that people sometimes play the game 40 hours a week, while I’m hearing from other sources that research showed users putting a lot of effort into it for a short time, then dropping and not coming back (possibly because there’s no persistent or tranferable value to the ‘points’ given in the game?).

The "Game Layer" In NYT (well, sorta)

My obsession with what I call the “game layer” aside, it’s interesting that the mainstream press are now reporting on how using “game mechanics” in business software can create more engaging & useful ways of working with data, collaborating, and getting work done.

Why Work Is Looking More Like a Video Game – New York Times

Rave adapts a variety of gaming techniques. For instance, you can build a dossier of your clients and sales prospects that includes photographs and lists of their likes, dislikes and buying interests, much like the character descriptions in many video games. Prospects are given ratings, not by how new they are — common in C.R.M. programs — but by how likely they are to buy something. All prospects are also tracked on a timeline, another gamelike feature.

(Thanks, Casey, for the link!)

The Glider as Hacker Emblem

glider emblem

This is delightful. A sort of logo for hacker culture. Not hackers as in criminals (hacker culture calls those people ‘crackers’ among other things) but hackers as in lateral-thinking technology heads.

The graphic … is called a glider. It’s a pattern from a mathematical simulation called the Game of Life. In this simulation, very simple rules about the behavior of dots on a grid give rise to wonderfully complex emergent phenomena. The glider is the simplest Life pattern that moves, and the most instantly recognizable of all Life patterns.

I love this emblem because it really does reference so many things I adore about the internet, what’s happening on it, and the culture that I believe to be the beating heart of it.

Here’s some of the explanation from Frequently Asked Questions about the Glider Emblem

The glider is an appropriate emblem on many levels. Start with history: the Game of Life was first publicly described in Scientific American in 1970. It was born at almost the same time as the Internet and Unix. It has fascinated hackers ever since.
In the Game of Life, simple rules of cooperation with what’s nearby lead to unexpected, even startling complexities that you could not have predicted from the rules (emergent phenomena). This is a neat parallel to the way that startling and unexpected phenomena like open-source development emerge in the hacker community… The glider fulfils the criteria for a good logo. It’s simple, bold, hard to mistake for anything else, and easy to print on a mug or T-shirt. It could be varied, combined with other emblems, or modified and infinitely repeated for use as a background

I’ve been going on and on about how the internet has given rise to a “game layer” to the world we live in: a sort of subcutaenous skin of data that connects everything, and mirrors the logic of our world. (Hence the number of friends you have on MySpace; the location you’re twittering from in Twitter; which songs you listen to the most on your iPod; the ability to track a UPS package at every turn; and on and on). Everything we attach to the network becomes more data, and if it’s data, it’s game-able.

Hacking itself is a kind of game, and the culture is very playful. I can’t get enough of this idea that “play” and “game,” once expanded some in their meaning and context, show us entirely new frames of reference that help explain what’s happening in the world.

SF Weekly on Jane McGonigal

Excellent article on JM’s ideas about how game situations can unlock incredible problem-solving potential in groups of people, and can be applied to anything from medicine to politics.

San Francisco – News – Future Games – sfweekly.com

McGonigal designs games for a living, and she believes they point the way toward civilization’s next step forward. Her games are sprawling extravaganzas that suck in thousands of players and force them to pool their talents to become, essentially, one big networked brain. In the young and burgeoning genre of alternate reality games, otherwise known as ARGs, the players’ collective intelligence is applied to cracking codes, solving puzzles, and completing complex tasks doled out by almighty “puppetmasters.” McGonigal is one of the people who pulls the strings.