It was around this time two years ago that I had begun wondering about a collaborative learning game that might involve role-playing and task completion. I suggested that the game shouldn’t preach, correct, or in any way disrespect the player’s intelligence, but rather amplify it through teaching the art of content analysis as a form of “participatory entertainment”. I was learning content analysis at the time with Open Intelligence, but lacked the tools that would accelerate the process. I was longing for something that didn’t exist and was wishing for a form of education that could provide the kind of collective intelligence I saw attainable when collaborative groups began practicing content analysis and synthesis together.
This post contains a compilation of snippets I’ve been mulling. They all string together along a particular line of ideation concerning a game designed for learning and coming up with ideas toward a particular end some of us think of as “planetary scale intelligence“. This post in and of itself presents a kind of output from playing the game itself, although this is a primarily a personal compilation, rather than a collective masterpiece.
I noticed “collective ideation” at publications.lib.chalmers.se. The interesting work from Jennie Björk, Ph.D got me thinking about how participants within a distributed knowledge system could improve themselves while exchanging win-win patterns of “conversational reciprocity”. Apparently there is an increasing body of literature that points to the importance of ideation, but tends to forget the “importance of inter-individual relationships” (empathy). The paper got me mulling about how a well-structured and socially engaging game could nurture innovation efforts by offering its participants ‘meaningful experiences’. The structure would help stimulate activity across multiple interests and engage participants in lateral thinking. They could explore multiple categories and models of relating to ideas.
Seriously fun games for learning
The collective ideation game would involve serious play, which at times may be actual work. Dianne Rees at Instructional Design Fusions reviewed Raph Koster‘s A Theory of Fun for Game Design. She notes that Koster thinks a good game is “one that teaches everything it has to offer before the player stops playing.” It is said that a very good game has “variability and unpredictability”, so that the path to success can be changeable each time the player enters the game world. Koster summarizes his thoughts about the essential nature of games as follows:
Games aren’t stories. Games aren’t about beauty or delight. Games aren’t about jockeying for social status. They stand, in their own right, as something incredibly valuable. Fun is about learning in a context where there is no pressure, and that is why games matter.
In a paper called The Value of Serious Play, researchers investigate how people may devote “enormous time, energy, and emotion to a task.” The researchers from The University of Georgia describe such episodes as a form of “play” which engages “creative higher-order thinking coupled with intense personal commitment and involvement.” Their work further explores trends in the design of interactive computer-based technologies that offer unique opportunities to support “serious play for learning.”
Can Your Friends Make You More Innovative?
Sinan Aral’s two areas of interest are behavioral contagions and causality. He believes that if we can understand how behavior is spread in a population, there’s the potential to promote good behaviors such as condom use and tolerance and to deter behavior like smoking and violence.
Tim Kastelle, who studies innovation networks shared his take on the Sinan’s talk at timkastelle.org. He suggests we think of the economy as a network that shapes our decisions. If the game promotes behavior, it would be those analytic and creative activities that a collective would gladly undertake in order to rapidly innovate for global change. He points to the work of Mark Earls which I found is titled HERD. While players could be manipulated, the game would need a transparent system of rewards that nurtures synchronicity, creativity, and empathy.
A quote popped out to me at the HERD blog concerning motivation:
“Motivation does not come from financial incentives alone. Again, the financial sector has done us all a disservice in promoting the belief that massive financial compensation is necessary to motivate individuals”. – Mervyn King, Chairman of the bank of England on what levers we might pull to drive up economic activity.
Gamification has been a sustained trend over the past few years. The idea makes some cringe, but in essence is about using game dynamics to motivate people to participate in a process. Mario Morales, the CEO at Innovare, recently wrote about a solution he’s called “Gamificating Innovation“. He points out that gamification “applies game design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging.” He thinks largely in terms of providing players an “instant reward and recognition system” that involves levels, points, missions, badges, rankings and trophys.
In an analysis from Deloitte, shared at smartplanet.com, we read that gamification can be used in applications to help accomplish “real-world objectives”. The report explores how businesses can turn tasks and training into games which supply data, suggesting the enterprise itself, when gamified can be constantly improved based upon feedback from ‘the game’. I wouldn’t suggest that the entire planet be gamified to extract its collective intelligence, but I would support attempts by ‘changemakers’ who are keen on creating open planetary intelligence.
Reality is Broken !
The game-based approach to global change has been popularized by Jane McGonigal’s new book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How they Can Change the World. The book is split into three sections. The first section covers the topic of what makes us happy, the second is about entering alternate realities, and the third looks at the challenges and potential associated with massive collaborative projects.
In a review by Michael Andersen at argn.com, we read that McGonigal doesn’t attack games as “an escapist outlet for avoiding real-world troubles” but rather asks why we don’t subvert those game mechanics to make the world a better place? He mentions that her book explains why we like games in the first place, and “how we can transform that interest into something that will make our lives and the lives of others better.”
An MMO that improves itself
The players could work closely with the developers to tweak the dynamics while they participate. The most popular massively multiplayer online (MMO) game is undoubtedly World of Warcraft, which John Seely Brown discusses with Big Think, describing how an ideation game could involve “knowledge refiners”. Players would use their “personalized dashboards” to measure their performance and self-organize into collaborative guilds. He suspects that collectively such a game could come up with thousands of ideas.
Lars Buttler, the CEO and founder of Trion told Mashable, “A traditional video game is played in your machine, in your local console, and is a static experience…the game does not evolve and it’s also not really social because you cannot play with all of your friends against the environment that is created in the video game.” He also points to how his company’s game, called Rift, is different from other MMOs because it is constantly evolving and users themselves can influence this change.
The game may integrate a number of models into its overall structure, and Spiral Dynamics is one that stood out to me. Consider a paper by Don Edward Beck, Ph. D. on The Cultural Dynamics that Spark Violence, Spread Prosperity, and Shape Globalization shares a concept that would be a deep aspect of the content analysis game:
If one were to do a content analysis of all the books and articles written on the global gaps, or arguments presented in academic or think tank settings, or even the political dialogue in national parliaments or international summits, we would see several clear and distinct patterns. Capitalism is great or greedy. Socialism is humane or harmful. Technology is a blessing or a curse. The rich are that way because they worked hard or simply won life’s lottery. The poor are that way because they are undisciplined or oppressed by the rich. Economic redistribution will level the playing field or dumb down global intelligences. Which is it?
He describes how there are “cultural waves” that are embedded in each other like Russian dolls. Over time these waves form “survival codes, myths of origin, artistic forms, life styles, and senses of community” which as human constructs contain differing capacities for dealing with complex problems in society.
The central thesis of Beck’s document is that “external approaches designed to improve the human condition are faulted unless they also include, as parallel and simultaneous tracks, the essential steps and stages in interior social development.” He notes Ken Wilber’s language, that each new social stage “transcends but includes” and that there is no “utopian paradise” as an end goal, because “each stage is but a prelude to the next, then the next, then the next.” Players would be able to monitor themselves in relation to these spiraling waves, “pursuing a never-ending quest.”
THE LIVING STRATA IN OUR PSYCHO-CULTURAL ARCHEOLOGY Stage/
Color Code Popular Name Thinking Cultural manifestations and personal displays 8 Turquoise WholeView Holistic collective individualism; cosmic spirituality; earth changes 7 yellow FlexFlow Ecological natural systems; self-principle; multiple realities; knowledge 6 Green HumanBond Consensus egalitarian; feelings; authentic; sharing; caring; community 5 Orange StriveDrive Strategic materialistic; consumerism; success; image; status; growth 4 Blue TruthForce Authority meaning; discipline; traditions; morality; rules; lives for later 3 Red PowerGods Egocentric gratification; glitz; conquest; action; impulsive; lives for now 2 Purple KinSpirits Animistic rites; rituals; taboos; super- stitions; tribes; folk ways & lore 1 Beige SurvivalSense Instinctive food; water; procreation; warmth; protection; stays alive
Superstruct: an example
A few years ago the Institute for the Future invited people to play Superstruct, “the world’s first massively multiplayer forecasting game.” The purpose was to enlist participants to not only envision the future, but to invent it. The game is set in the summer of 2019 and humans have learned they have 23 years to go until certain death. The fact is based on evidence from “a year-long supercomputer simulation” from what is called the Global Extinction Awareness System (GEAS).
The GEAS models revealed five so-called “super-threats”, involving a “collision of environmental, economic, and social risks.” It was a “game of survival” that would help increase the world’s adaptive capacity. The game encouraged players to share their stories and “strategize out loud”. The designers from the Institute for the Future (IFTF) drew up a considerable amount of quality content which in itself structured the game. Their blog post describes the future scenario in a bit more detail:
Super-threats are massively disrupting global society as we know it. There’s an entire generation of homeless people worldwide, as the number of climate refugees tops 250 million. Entrepreneurial chaos and “the axis of biofuel” wreak havoc in the alternative fuel industry. Carbon quotas plummet as food shortages mount. The existing structures of human civilization—from families and language to corporate society and technological infrastructures—just aren’t enough. We need a new set of superstructures to rise above, to take humans to the next stage.
Concluding thoughts, for now
I’ve drawn attention to some of the aspects that may be involved in a collaborative learning game, but there is far more to consider at another time.
It occurred to me that if Superstruct had actually taught players some basic analysis it would’ve made an even greater impact. Also, we’re past the point of no return, considering the fact that Climate Changed.
Gamification shouldn’t overshadow player’s intrinsic motivations to help humanity. Evidence that ideas and innovation are having an impact could stimulate more gratifying exchanges between players. All the while, the game would be improving its dynamics so it could scale up quickly to include more players, producing bigger solutions.
With the Spiral Dynamics model in mind, players could evaluate content and converse using a common language that relates to the eight stages, potentially describing a number of solutions that might shift human conditions to higher waves of potential. Other models may be used instead, or in addition to Spiral Dynamics. It all depends on which models can help players learn, survive, and thrive together most effectively.