Saturday, November 15, 2008

Alternative Reality Games (ARG), Collaborative Environments and p2p production

I don’t know if you know Jane MacGonigal, believe if you don’t, you should ! Just take a look at one of hers video talks for example the one in The NewYorker conference.

Jane MacGonigal is the Director of Game Research and Development of the Institute of the Future and author of the game Superdestruct. She coined the term economy of engagement, as far as I know (I may be wrong on that).

Recently, after the dark ages of TV that lasted more than 50 years, humanity is finding new ways of getting rid of our cognitive surplus (this term was coined by Clay Shirky – and I am not wrong here- pls take a look at his conference on web 2.0 about it). Cognitive surplus is a gift of the industrial revolution, when our society began to apply machines extensively something new was invented: free time.

And with free time came cognitive surplus. First gin and later sitcoms were our way to get rid of it until radio and especially TV appeared. For 50 years TV has been THE way to get rid of our cognitive surplus. Shirky calculated that the effort on Wikipedia is equivalent to 100M hours of human cognitive work. If we compare that to the time spent watching TV only in US – 200B hours – we see that 2,000 Wikipedias can be made with that time in the US alone.

User-Innovation, User-Created Contents, etc… are carving from that huge surplus and yes – finally we are moving from the couch away from the stupid box aka TV set.

The problem is that cognitive surplus is not evenly distributed neither available for long or not rewarding tasks. Yes, we want it to be fun, to be engaging and to be rewarding !!

Therefore the problem in designing Collaborative Environments or in capturing people’s imagination for innovation with software platforms or in p2p production is three sided. First how to make things modular and with a low granularity to be able to fit in the evenly distributed cognitive surplus. Second how to integrate the result through a software platform or with the limited introduction of a hierarchy (open source for example). And third, how to engage people.

Many attempts have been made on the first and second problems and we know to some extend some of the answers. However, we know very little of the third problem: how to engage people. And here is where the work of Jane MacGonigal is relevant, ARG could work in this third problem, specially for the Millennium generation and after, where games are integrated as part of daily life. With Albert Angehrn from Insead, we – mostly he – has been working in that direction too. He is a consummate master of using game dynamics in a variety of fields from education to innovation.

Games have many of the elements that can pull and trigger the best of us. They are satisfying, collaborative, allow us to work our social skills, generate a feeling of belonging while allowing us to be good and lead things. These are many of triggers that govern our life where reality and imagination many times blur. As Jane McGonigal reminds us

“An alternate reality is another way of experiencing existence.”

G.S. Elrick, 1978 

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