I've been a big fan of Jane McGonigal ever since I had the chance to talk with her at the Learning 2007 conference where we were both speakers. One of the many reasons I so like her work is her focus on what is called “alternate reality gaming” or ARG (gotta have an acronym or it ain’t real right?). While Jane is a very fun person (who else would carry the title of "Head PuppetMaster"?), trust me when I say that her work on games and their consequent results has been very “serious” indeed. Harvard Business Review called her theory of "alternate reality business" one of the "Top 20 Breakthrough Ideas of 2008". Check out Jane's company AvantGame and her blog for more information and I think you too will soon be a big fan.
I’ve been promoting augmented reality over virtual reality for a long time, and Jane’s unique approach of adding gaming to the equation is brilliant. I believe that Jane and her games are the best examples that I know of for showing off some of the true power of applying game theory. I especially appreciate the truly unique approach and out-of-the-box thinking she has brought to gaming. Jane’s games are also great examples of a common theme here on OCOT—the power and beauty of simplicity. Unlike most game examples, which typically involve a lot of hardware and software technology and are highly dependent upon the game developers and platforms, Jane's games are an extremely “low tech” model that puts the game players in charge. It all starts with and is based upon a simple opening statement or premise and is then left up to the players to provide all the excitement and direction online, usually with simple tools such as e-mails, blogs, and IM. You can see this for yourself by checking out some of her past successes such as World Without Oil, Cruel 2 B Kind, and I Love Bees.
Superstruct is Super!
All this is just an introduction though to a new joint venture that I'm intrigued by and which Jane is leading with the Institute for the Future called “Superstruct”. They describe it as “the world’s first massively multiplayer forecasting game. It’s not just about envisioning the future—it’s about inventing the future.” As with all her alternate reality games, this one starts with a scenario. In the case of Superstruct, it begins with the following:
"Humans have 23 years to go: Global Extinction Awareness System starts the countdown for Homo sapiens. PALO ALTO, CA — Based on the results of a year-long supercomputer simulation, the Global Extinction Awareness System (GEAS) has reset the "survival horizon" for Homo sapiens—the human race—from "indefinite" to 23 years."
You can read the rest of the details in the link above and this Superstruct FAQ. Highly recommend that you take a few minutes to check out the link to Superstruct to learn more. Although the game doesn’t officially start until September 2008, they have already started a precursor in the form of comments to the announcement and an initial premise of:
"It’s the summer of 2019. Imagine you’re already there, and tell us a little bit about your future self. Where are you having dinner tonight?"
For more on Superstruct and other AR games check out the ARGNet for more alternative reality games. While it is obviously still early in the process, I was struck by the degree to which the initial comments seem to see and predict a very negative future, and it's all the more reason for us to all take a role in changing this by envisioning and designing one that is positive. If you believe as I do that WE are ultimately in control of the future, then why would we design and aim for anything less? PLEASE be sure to check out the comments and add some of your own!
Forget Predicting the Future. Let's Get Busy Designing It!
What I'm most passionate about, and my reason for alerting you to this new glimpse into the future, is the whole idea of not predicting the future, but "inventing it" as Jane has also been known to say. This of course parallels one of my favorite Alan Kay' quotes:
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
This hands on, get involved, take responsibility and action approach has always spoken to me loudly, and so I’m struck by the increasing number and diversity of ways that this is actually happening and how we collectively can and are creating the future. It sure beats the more typically fatalistic attitudes I seem to run into so often that "they" are causing everything or that technology is somehow in control of our future. I'm desperately hoping and sincerely believe that as these recent examples show, we are seeing the turnaround of the "victim mentality" that seems to have become so prevalent and we are going to seize both the opportunity and the responsibility to make the future one that we want to live in and be a part of.