The Power of Games

August 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Massively multiplayer online games are a major force in the entertainment industry today. There are quite a few ways that games are powerful. Jane McGonigal does a wonderful job describing the power of games as a whole in her book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. I highly recommend you read her book whether or not you are a gamer because the book also does a great job of explaining how games affect people, which provides both gamers and non-gamers alike an insight that often is categorized as a mystery.

But MMORPGs and other types of massively multiplayer games are the focus of my post today. Why are people drawn to them and how can we leverage those same draws for other areas of our lives? I want to dive into two concepts the first being based in achievement – progress bars – and the second being primarily social – ambient sociability.

MMORPGs keep people in the game and playing the game because they foster motivation in their players. One of the easiest ways to demonstrate this is through the use of progress bars. However, any tangible progress tracking system will work. Maps that show progress through a level or dungeon, numerical scales like 1/100, or the accumulation of items or actions for some sort of quest goal are all examples of how progress can be tracked. Making progress toward a goal – often a level, a skill, or an achievement in MMORPGs – is inherently motivating for most people. When we accomplish a goal that we have chosen for ourselves, we get a rush of excitement and want to accomplish more. How can we do this elsewhere? Easy. Create goals that student or patrons can choose from, then create pathways to achieving that goal. The rest will take care of itself. The key is that the choice of goals must be done in such a way that the people involved take ownership of them. Once they accept the chosen goal as their goal, motivation takes over and helps them reach completion. We can replicate the availability of desirable choice in our careers, our communities, our schools, and our libraries.

The second concept that I want to touch on is ambient sociability. Not everyone in an MMORPG wants to jump into group situations with people they’ve never actually seen or interacted with. For some, it is completely unappealing. However, most people like the option of social interaction available to them even if they rarely choose to be social. Many MMORPGs create both solo and collaborative pathways to achieve the progress I mentioned above. Having multiple options that a player can easily switch between at any given moment allows players to choose when they wish to be social. This provides a sense of comfort for a wide variety of personalities. However, we rarely get that sort of choice in our everyday lives. Many of our activities are defined as alone or group activities with little variance between them and rarely any opportunity to switch on a whim. Finding more ways to create the ability to move in and out of group settings based on the individual’s comfort level would increase the welcoming nature of our social interactions for the more introverted personalities in our workplaces, communities, schools, and other institutions like libraries.

All in all, there is much to be learned from the world of MMORPGs and the power of games.  We just have to choose to actively pursue those possibilities.

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