Thursday, June 21, 2012

Can gamification save the world?

One of the messages of the book is that games/gamification can have an impact on the long term health of society itself.  The basic reason is that it gives us an opportunity to learn and practice some skills that are essential to deal with the complex world we have created for ourselves.

1.  Games allow us to practice with long term goals without having to wait such a long time for the learning to bear fruit.  In games we can accelerate the passage of time, experiencing many cycles in quick succession. 

2.  Similarly, games allow us to practice ecosystems thinking.  Ecosystems thinking involves grasping the complex interplay of several components of a system.  In a game, we can make the interactions more transparent.  We can also start a new player out with small interactions and then scale them up to make learning easier and more accurate. 

3. We can also facilitate pilot experimentation, which is practice with no real consequences.   We don’t want pilot trainees to crash any real planes while learning to fly.  But practice in a flight simulator is great (assuming it is designed for real learning as well as gamified).

4.  Massively multiplayer games give us large sample size simulations.  At the moment, we don’t actually know how to model complex systems like the environment, or international trade.  We change one thing and all kinds of crazy unexpected side effects happen.  Pretty soon we have a Black Swan like the real estate market crash/financial crisis in 2007-10.    Instead of practicing on the real world, we can recruit 100,000 people to play a gamified simulation.  Because they are real people, they will react a lot more like real people in the real world and then give us a better idea of what will happen.  We can prepare in advance or just do something different in the first place.

So it we create a game that simulates some aspect of the real world, recruit 100,000 people to play, and then mine the results for actionable hypotheses, perhaps we can figure out what to do about the environment (World Without Oil) or some other potentially catastrophic situation we are getting ourselves in to.