Monthly Archives: May 2012

Reality Is Broken

Off and on over the past year, I’ve been reading Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. I’ve actually really enjoyed reading this book. Even though it’s a book that I’m not reading for class, I feel as though I should be taking notes on it. Perhaps that’s just a habit.

I think what I really enjoy about this book though is that it talks about games in a much broader context than I expected. More specifically, it talks about games and emotional health and psychology. I really just find all of what she’s researched fascinating. The idea of flow, the idea of happiness, what it is, where it comes from, how we attempt to find it– it’s all just really interesting to me. She has all of this research of what is happiness, how we can find it,  how we make it for ourselves. It’s really just fascinating. And it also confirms what my mother always told me: “You make your own happiness.” See what she has to say.

Many different competing theories of happiness have emerged from the field of positive psychology, but if there’s one thing virtually all positive psychologists agree on, it’s this: there are many ways to be happy, but we cannot find happiness. No object, no event, no outcome or life circumstance can deliver real happiness to us. We have to make our own happiness — by working hard at activities that provide their own reward.

She then lists four “secrets” to happiness: satisfying work, the experience or hope of being successful, social connection, and meaning. She goes on to explain that all four of these things are found while playing a game. You feel satisfied after you complete a mission in a game; a game is capable of being beat so there is at least a chance you can accomplish it; you can connect with people through games either playing with them in person, through the internet, or even by talking about games at a later time; and finally games give us some kind of meaning. We learn things about our environment by playing games.

My other favorite part of the book was the discussion on the idea of flow. The father of “the science of happiness” is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who termed a specific kind of happiness as flow: “the satisfying, exhilarating feeling of creative accomplishment and heightened functioning.” There’s a lack of flow in daily life but an abundance of it in games– not just video games, but also games like basketball, tennis or other physical activities like dance or rockclimbing.

McGonigal writes:

The solution [to every day boredom] seemed obvious to Csikszentmihalyi: create more happiness by structuring real work like game work. Games teach us how to create opportunities for freely chosen, challenging work that keeps us at the limits of our abilities, and those lessons can be transfered to real life. Our most pressing problems– depression, helplessness, social alienation, and the sense that nothing we do truly matters– could be effectively addressed by integrating more gameful work into our everyday lives.

The study of positive psychology in conjunction with games is really interesting to me, and so that was really fun to read about in McGonigal’s book. If it interests you at all, I  suggest you pick up a copy and learn something about happiness and games.

Can Games Solve Global Issues?

I was looking to help me launch a discussion on games, technology, and social global problems, and lo and behold, I stumbled onto this video from CNN featuring game designer Jane McGonigal.

(Just tried embedding it, and it’s not working so here is the link)

In this video, McGonigal talks about how games can save the world. She talks about it in her book also Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change The World (great book, by the way– it’s really interesting. Maybe I’ll write a post about it next), but in this video she’s talking about a game that she helped design called Evoke. The game brought people together from all of the world. Hold on, I actually wrote about it in my senior thesis. Let me dig it up and post what I wrote…

Evoke introduces itself as “a ten-week crash course in changing the world.” Running from March 3 through May 12, 2012, Evoke is a social networking game aimed to empower people worldwide to develop creative solutions to the world’s social problems. Players collaborated with each other via blogs, videos, and pictures to share their experience and ideas in order to solve problems like world hunger, limited clean water, and violence in Africa. The game was designed by Jane McGonigal and the World Bank.

So anyways, check out what McGonigal has to say about Evoke and how games can help save the world.

ARG Examination: Perplex City

One of the most interesting ARGs that I’ve come across in my research is one called Perplex City. I think this one intrigued me so much because it inspired my current research on casual gaming and alternate reality gaming coming together in the new genre casual transmedia games. Anyways, as inspirational as it was for me, it turns out that it wasn’t that great of a success financially for the company that created it, Mind Candy. I think one of the major reasons why this game “failed” (I’m sure it was loads of fun, but if it flops financially, unfortunately, the game is usually branded a failure) is because it attempted to self-sustain itself. Instead of promoting an outside brand or product, the game was in a sense promoting itself. Players bought decks of playing cards much like Pokemon or baseball cards. These cards had puzzles on them. Some of these puzzles were self-contained, but others lead players to other clues, either on other cards or in the real world. The game was supposed to sustain itself therefore by the sale of these cards. It would have been amazing if this had worked. I think it would have revolutionized the gaming industry. However, the sale of these cards simply wasn’t enough to sustain the game.

“Season One” of Perplex City ran from April 2005 through February 2007. That is an enormously long time for an ARG to run. I think that might have been another reason the game didn’t do as well as it could have. It’s very hard to keep a game like that going. Why So Serious? ran for 18 months, but I think that’s an exception rather than a rule. Anyways, Mind Candy promised a second season of Perplex City, but as it says on the Perplex City website, the financial undertaking of creating a second installment would simply be too much.

It really is a bummer. I think with some game design modifications and a financial backer with a product to promote, a game like Perplex City could be a huge success.

Anyways, a few years ago, one of my first introductions to the world of alternate reality games at all was the video below that one of my professors showed us in class. The idea of it really captivated me, and well, here I am going to grad school to study them. Check on the video to find out a little bit more about Perplex City.

Technology Considerations in ARGs

So clearly this blog is concerned about technology and ARGs. But in creating an ARG, what are the kinds of considerations that designers have to take into account? When I

Smartphones are such an awesome device to use in ARGs.

was creating my game two months ago (it feels like a lifetime ago), this was a question I had to ask myself. I go to a school that is by most measures pretty well-off. I cannot fathom a student not having a laptop or a cell phone. It’s also fairly uncommon for that phone not to be a smartphone, whether it’s an iPhone, Droid, or some other version. However, even on a campus where wealth and technology seems fairly wide-spread, I still got comments from participants in my game that they believed that my game relied too much on the use of smartphones.

When I designed the game, I specifically attempted to avoid this. At first, I thought players could track their clues with QR codes. But then a friend told me a nightmare of a project she had dealing with QR codes, and I decided against it. Additionally, I thought that it would be unfair to those players without smartphones to read the QR codes. Thus, I opted for tinyurls instead. However, it seems as though the players with smartphones were able to just type in that URL in their smartphone to access the points. I had thought that would be an option, but I never thought of it as a disadvantage for those without smartphones since I had explicitly designed this element of the game with those sans-smartphones in mind.

What this shows me is that even in a place where smartphones are almost ubiquitous, there are still going to be those without them. How, then, should ARGs take these people into considerations? ARGs want to push boundaries, to contact and interact with people in new ways. But should they use the lowest common denominator in order to make sure that they include those without that technology?

I also had an element of the game that required me to text the different teams clues. If I had done this puzzle ten or maybe even five years ago, would this have been possible? Suppose half of the teams had cell phones, and half didn’t. It would be so much more immersive to send players a text and would make it a much better game, but what about those without phones? How does the game account for those people?

I don’t really have an answer for that question. I attempted to decrease the reliance on newer technology to include more people, but even my attempts didn’t satisfy all players. I just think it’s an important aspect that game designers need to keep in mind– what happens when we want to be on the cutting edge but not all of our audience is? Do we make the jump and sacrifice that demographic or do we stay in the safe zone and risk losing those who expect more technology-involved games?

StoryWorld Conference 2012 Coming Soon!

So I just got a really awesome email from my advisor about StoryWorld Conference 2012. Here is a link if you want to check it out, which you should because it is awesome! It’s a transmedia conference which is just so up my alley, I just can’t even tell you. It’s in October in Hollywood, California, and I can’t emphasize enough how much I really want to go. Maybe I could go as a grad student. Who knows. Anyways, check out the event information. The description of the event says, “At this must-attend transmedia conference, you’ll learn the craft of developing a cohesive, organic story universe, straight from masters like Elan Lee, director of the world’s first alternate reality game; Alison Norrington, creator of StoryCentralDIGITAL, and media psychologist Pamela Rutledge, an expert on the importance of play.”


A lot of transmedia storytellers are going to be there, and the one that I’m most excited about is Elan Lee, who was a co-designer of The Beast and now has his own game design company, Fourth Wall Studios.

Anyways, check it out, and if anyone is going, let me know!