4 min read

Will You Create a World of Consumers or Contributors?

Reid Bryant Kimball recaps briefly Jesse Schell's thought provoking talk at this year's D.I.C.E conference. Not a fan of potential future of games, he wonders if game developers will create games to make people better consumers, or better contributors.

honda insight eco assistJesse Schell, author of the highly regarded The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses gave a presentation at D.I.C.E on February 18th, 2010, which was at times funny and at other times a scary picture of the future of games.

His main premise is that games of the future will continue the trend of all media becoming more relevant to or at least connected with reality. Current examples of this trend he cited are the virtual plant that grows in the Honda Insight (though he incorrectly said it was the Toyota Prius) when drivers are more fuel efficient. It’s a game to encourage better driving behavior. Facebook games frequently encourage players to connect with their friends, to share virtual items or challenge them. XBox has its public achievement system that can pressure someone to play more to get more points so they can brag to their friends in the real world, about something that doesn’t exist if there’s no electricity.

Schell says this trend started because people care about reconnecting with what is real. That in the past twenty to thirty years, technology has enabled us to gorge on fantasy and escapism and now we are finally awakening from our post-gorge-fest to realize it was a sham. A farce. Empty calories that aren’t delivering what is real and true to the experience of being human.

flower in handsWe now want real experiences, we want real change and to reconnect with nature. Partly why Avatar was so successful was because it reawakened a deeply muted and numbed core of the human experience, which is to be in tune with nature, life and your own body. Many are sick today because they aren’t awake; they don’t know what “real” feels like.

So that’s the now, which I’ve sort of emphasized a bit more than Jesse Schell did and put my own interpretation on what I’m seeing. What about the future? What did Jesse Schell have to say about where games will go?

I think this was the best part of his presentation because it aroused strong feelings of disgust within and will leave me thinking for days, if not weeks, until I can figure out how to deal with it, because I see what he predicts as a very real possibility. In summary, what he predicts is massively multiplayer advertising games through sharing of dynamic electronic tattoos that display brand advertisements, cereal boxes with leaderboards among friends ranking who has eaten the most and Amazon reviews that give bonus points if the Kindle detected your eyes read every single word. Massive, pervasive awareness of what you see, what you eat, what you drive, how you do it, why you do it, where and when.

It’s not a future I want to see. I don’t like advertising, I think it pollutes the mind. “You are ugly. You are fat. You are hungry. You are friendless, hairless and depressed. What you need, we have. What you want, we sell. To be better, buy now.” Now couple that with achievement systems for being a “better” consumer and we have an already ill western society built up on consumerism now on a fast track to even greater self-destruction.

I went to a town hall recently and several members of the city government gave presentations, including the mayor and commissioner, as well as citizens. The topic was on peak oil, climate change and what it can do to our local food supply, the citizens and the planet as a whole. One point that really struck me was that for generations we’ve been brought up to be consumers. We consume food, clothing, information, services, products, art and raw materials of the earth. If we are to not only survive, but thrive in the coming generations, we need to adapt our way of living away from consumers to instead being contributors. We’ll need to become contributors of local community services (carpool organizer), food (grow your own), clothing (sew your own), healthcare (be your own doctor) and information (teach others what you know).

globe of earth flated with tire tracks on itThe question for us game designers as we move ahead to creating more reality infused game experiences is, are we going to create games that are leaderboards for how many calories players have consumed for McDonalds? Or are we going to create games that help people positively, to be more connected with nature, genuine and compassionate towards all life? Are we going to be creating generations of consumers, or generations of contributors? Which way will you contribute to the future of society?

Also posted on my personal blog, Reiding...

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