Monday, February 27, 2012

Games and Changing Incentives: Birth of a New Way

We're looking at Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, starting here.


So one of her final "reality fixes" is:

Compared with games, reality is unsustainable. The gratifications we get from playing games are an infinitely renewable resource.


Games can improve coordination and help people work together in a more efficient, satisfying way. She quotes a software entrepreneur in Massachusetts named Joe Edelman, who has developed an online social tasks network called Groundcrew.


“The availability of cheap, networked, programmable devices is as big a deal for human economics as the invention of paper money and coins were,” Edelman explains. “It gives us, for the first time, the opportunity to change the rules of the game, to tune the incentives, and to create much more flexible access to resources—including other people—all without creating the huge bureaucracies and informational inefficiencies associated with previous attempts.


One thing he says here is very important : you can tune incentives much more accurately. And of course the nature of incentives has been one of the running themes of this blog. How do you incentivize people to behave well, be productive and cooperative and happy? How do you prevent defection and cheating and laziness? The ability to tune incentives more precisely could be revolutionary. Difficult, of course, but this is potentialy a new way to think about it, which goes beyond just paying welfare or dangling a bonus or hierarchical status.


For example, "Levelling up" in game terms does not necessarily involve ascending a greasy pole that has fewer and fewer positions at the top of the hierarchy. It's a matter of progress and development. If you achieve level 80 in WoW it doesn't mean you have hundreds of underlings, or that it comes at the expense of those lower down in the experience hierarchy. It isn't a hierarchy in the normal way.


Most of all, she says, games are a way to give people the purpose they want. It isn't just a matter of killing aliens.


This is still the primary function of games for us today. They serve to make our real lives better. And they serve this purpose beautifully, better than any other tool we have. No one is immune to boredom or anxiety, loneliness or depression. Games solve these problems, quickly, cheaply, and dramatically. Life is hard, and games make it better.


It really is a very exciting book. I was unfamiliar with most of the games she talks about, especially the social games or alternate reality games. I hadn't played any massively multiplayer games like Halo or World of Warcraft until this weekend, mostly because I didn't have the time. (I still don't have the time).


I had thought games could be a better way to talk about purpose and motivation in real terms. She puts real concrete examples on the table, linked with scholarly insight and beautiful writing.


And these examples are just the beginning. It is probably the future of the internet. First came sending e-mail. Then came Internet 2.0, checking out friend's status on Facebook , and, of course, online gaming. Internet 3.0 may well be turning games into huge participatory structures which include and energize people to achieve collective goods - games taken to the next level. Not just games about magic or aliens, but the game of life. We have a genuinely new and important social technology being born.

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