Gaming can save the world – A gamer’s perspective (interview)

On: October 31, 2011
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About Christopher Mead
Techno-determinist, social media follower and gaming enthusiast. B.A in Anthropology, International Relations and a minor in 20th century History at the University College Utrecht. Worked for Dutch educational broadcasting company Teleac and Dutch navigation company TomTom. A keen football fan and devotee to understanding New Media.

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Could it? I may have exaggerated Jane McGonigal’s thoughts on gaming’s potential possibilities, but her optimism and enthusiasm may well agree with the title.

McGonigal talks of gaming’s collaborative potential, that if harnessed correctly, could lead to better and more productive problem solving capabilities. In her earlier works she specifically discusses gaming’s immersive dynamics and how they contribute to positive, critical perspectives on everyday problems, something she terms a lingering effect of immersive play.

She delves deeper into her ideas of collaborative potential and goes as far as postulating that gaming could solve real life world problems. For a concise view of her basic arguments, it is highly recommended you watch her TED talk below.

While Jane McGonigal divulges into the finer specificities of what kind of gaming is needed to extract this potential in her book Reality is Broken, it may be worthy  investigating the professional aspects within gaming and their affects. Where gaming as a leisurely activity, meets that of profession. This kind of phenomenon (known as e-sports) is on the rise, but could be the kind of environment McGonigal is in fact looking for (by transporting gaming’s immersive aesthetics into jobs and tasks many would normally consider mundane).

A critique of McGonigal’s view is that games are, and always will be limited to, as Ian Bogost brands it,“possibility spaces”: restrictions imposed by the game engine and therefore by the game designer himself. This is though, the biggest challenge in game design, and one she is trying to tackle extensively.

Having played professionally myself, I decided to delve into the thoughts of a fellow educated  gamer to offer insight into their life and why they play, as well as their fresh  perspective on whether they feel gaming has long term collaborative potential.

A graduate in Philosophy from the University of East Anglia, Leonidas Kyrkos, 22, plays an assortiment of games, both leisurely and professionally.

Below, you’ll find questions he graciously took the time to answer.

Interview

Q. What aspects of semi-professional gaming do you enjoy the most?

I would say that I derive most of my enjoyment from the social aspects of gaming. Playing within a team is rewarding on several levels; there are potential monetary rewards provided by competitions, there is the enjoyment and pride in knowing one to be among the best in the world at a particular endeavor, and there are the rewards of playing with others in pursuit of a common goal. Without the latter I would have stopped playing games years ago, the other benefits are enriched constantly if others are there to strive for them.

Q. What does a normal gaming day look like for you?

My gaming will usually start in the evenings, some time after 6pm. If I am endowed with free time and the opportunity presents itself then I will game at other times of the day, but generally gaming is conducted in the evenings. I and four others will gather on a voice communication platform such as ‘teamspeak’ and then play together for the next few hours. Generally this activity is considered to be practice for upcoming events and tournaments. We will usually finish playing some time before 10pm

Q. What aspects or qualities of the games you play make you keep going back?

I would say that games encourage me to keep playing by providing a challenge and reward system. If a game is too easy it becomes boring regardless of the rewards, but something that provides a challenge consistently will provide consistent entertainment over a number of years. Since the games that I play are multiplayer based, that challenge is provided by other gamers. Variations in the ways people play and the skill levels on show mean that a game can live on far longer than one that is strictly single player.

Q. Do you consider yourself immersed with gaming or a particular game, or addicted in any way?

I would say that I am somewhat immersed in several games, to the extent that I vaguely know what is going on in the competitive scene in several, and have an in depth understanding of the competitive scene in at least one. Other than that I sense no immersion, and as for whether I consider myself addicted I would say that I probably am. I enjoy gaming and spend a great deal of time doing it, I am not dangerously addicted, I am able to have an enjoyable social life despite my addiction. But I do find it very difficult not to play games when an opportunity presents itself.

Q. Would you agree that games are escapist? To elaborate: that there is no link between when you play, and when you return to real life matters. Or are both entwined in your opinion?

I think an argument could be made for both options, I am not entirely sure what effect my gaming has on the manner in which I tackle real life matters. If I had cloned myself and sent said clone off to perform real world tasks and never play games I might then be able to compare our behaviour and see what effects my gaming may have had. Sadly I can’t do that so I will have to go with my instinct and say that I believe that there is a link between ‘play-world’ and ‘real-world’ life. To what extent that link is important I could not say but I believe that it is there, an example would be that I perhaps developed more confidence and or teamworking abilities thanks to my gaming.

Q. How important is it for you to be playing with friends when you do play? Would you start playing a game online if you initially had no friends to play alongside or if there were no prospects of building potential relationships?

It is very important and I rarely play new games, or any games at all, if I do not have a friend available to play with me.

Q. How important is the notion of community, and online others, when playing a game? Would you be as immersed within single player environments?

Community is unendingly important for me as a gamer, I can and will sometimes play through a single player game, normally it takes me a few days and then that game is dead for me. I generally garner very little enjoyment from replaying single player games and overall find the experience less rewarding than an online game with a vibrant community.

Q. How important is it for you to differentiate between what is a game and what is not a game? Do you believe you would perform better at any task set before you if it were a game rather than a real life task with real effects and consequences?

I don’t think it really affects me in any measurable way, sure there are pressure factors relating to real world decisions, things that have a distinct impact on my life or another’s will probably be more difficult to make. A game allows you additional freedom in the sense that your decisions rarely have any significant consequences for you or anyone else. It is more like a continuous testing ground. However, I wouldn’t say that I would perform better in any situation if I considered it to be a game. I might behave slightly differently in certain situations and take more risks but other than that I doubt the differentiation is that important.

Q. Has gaming for extended periods with teammates changed your perspective on anything in real life, for instance, your thoughts on modern warfare?

My gaming has not influenced my understanding or thoughts on modern warfare in any way. A single player game might influence my opinions slightly if the writers of the story arc desired such an outcome. If a particular idea or emotion is being conveyed to me then I may take it on board and it may alter my view on something. For example, in Call of Duty 4 – Modern Warfare; there is a cutscene sequence in which a nuclear weapon is detonated in a middle eastern city, resulting in the death of your character and presumably every civilian in the blast radius. Since I already considered the idea of nuking a city to be reprehensible it had little impact on me, but if I were of a different point of view such a sequence might change my perspective in some way. However, with regard to the games that I play and the way I and my teammates interact in it, I do not see a way that the game itself could alter my perspectives on anything. Multiplayer competitive gaming strips off any ideological significance to a scenario, it becomes more of a puzzle solving enterprise. I wish to complete one of two objectives, destroying a ‘bombsite’ or eliminating the enemy team. These designations could be changed to ‘plant a cabbage’ and ‘capture the unicorn’. In the game you are simply trying to accomplish a goal, what that goal is and the environment in which you pursue it are largely irrelevant.

Q. Do you try and gamify real life scenarios in any way? To make boring menial tasks more appealing for instance?

I cannot think of an example of myself doing this but I would not be surprised if I suddenly found myself doing it. Much like a method for memorization might revolve around music or movement, the application of ‘gamification’ might render a task simpler and easier.

Q. Should we carry on separating the virtual from the real? Or are they now conjoined and considered ‘one’?

That’s a difficult question but I would not suggest that virtual reality and reality are conjoined. I do not believe that we have reached a state of equilibrium between the two. Reality is still considered (for valid reasons) to be more important than virtual reality. That which occurs in the virtual might be important to an individual but on aggregate is vastly less important with regards to ‘the real world’.

Q. Do you have any thoughts on the constant differentiation between real life and virtual? Do you think that, when gaming, that too, should be considered ‘real life?’

I think the beauty of games is that they are not real life, they allow you to explore options that you would not consider in real life. For example in Grand Theft Auto I might decide to walk up to a lady in the street and punch her in the back of the head. This may amuse me for several reasons, for one the character animations might be amusing in and of themselves, for another the idea of random and indefensibly violent behaviour might be considered somewhat amusing. However, that does not mean that this behaviour is allowable or even desirable in the real world. So no, I do not believe gaming should be considered ‘real life’, though there are other ways to argue the point and I believe the two are merging to a point where the opposite may be the case.

Q. How important is it for you to be able to work together in a team when playing rather than on your own?

Very important, without the team aspect I would not play games very much if at all.

Q. Would you agree that the challenge a game presents creates an overwhelming appeal to play? Would you consider it the most important aspect?

Refer to question 3

Q. What are your personal thoughts on gaming inducing better creative skills or abilities in real life scenarios? Would this apply to you at all?

Creative thinking in gaming might lend itself to better real-world creative skills, I myself am not hugely artistically creative but I do feel that I am able to assail problems in a more creative manner thanks to playing games for so many years. As I said earlier, the games that I play can be reduced to complicated problem solving; and that is certainly a skill that is worth being developed in the real world. In addition I would say my ability to cope well under pressure has improved thanks to my gaming.

Q. What is your opinion on teambased games being able to better collaboration in the real world? Do you think it has any effect, or is it dependent on the game?

I think teambased games may play a very important role in the world, especially with regards to multiculturalism. Political issues revolving around immigration and cultural diversity largely centre on communities needing to integrate better and learn from one another. I am friends with a very diverse group of people thanks to my gaming, people from very different backgrounds; be it social, political or religious. The ability to communicate with and become friends with people from different circumstances is crucial in becoming a better and more cultured person. Gaming provides a conduit for this kind of integration, sadly as with all such avenues it cuts both ways and through gaming I have encountered immense ignorance and bigotry. But I believe the net gain is greater than the loss.

Q. Do you believe playing games are at times tedious and borderline verging on job like? If so, is there a threshold in terms of the number of hours you’d then consider it work?

Certainly, I have rarely played in a team that would want to play for much more than 2-3 hours, any more than that and the game stops being fun and becomes a chore. This is simply a fact, doing something repetitive for a number of hours in a row is boring, regardless of how fun it is initially. I would say that anything beyond 3 hours becomes more like work, and since we are not salaried players or even particularly successful with regards to tournament winnings, we are unlikely to blow through this ‘work barrier’ in an evening.

Q. What are your thoughts on collaborative play in a gaming environment transcending into real life scenarios? For instance, adapting to your opponents tactics in games, and adapting to real world problems like food shortages? Is there a correlation in your view?

If there is it exists only in the method of thought that allows you to solve problems in game and out. I do not believe that these international issues are without solution, or even that said solution has not been provided already. The problem facing the world is that the solutions themselves are undesirable to those that are required to enact them. Solving that problem is far more difficult than solving the individual problems, the paths to which are blocked by desirability. But gaming does perhaps improve this problem solving ability to some degree, when you are trying to out-think an opponent you must work out what they are doing and counter it in a logical manner. For example, you are in a particular position, you know where your enemy is and he the same for you. If he wishes to win the round he can be either aggressive or defensive, you know that another position would make him much more likely to win the game based on your current positioning. As such you can either assume that he pursues such a course and counter it ahead of time, or you can attempt to tackle him in his current position. The basic premise is that you take the information you have and you attempt to use it to your advantage, the problem is the opposition, work out what he is doing and or wants to do and you can win the round based on it. This ability is just as useful outside of a game as it is inside.

Q. Is there a sense of social unity between gamers? Is this evident when you come together in real life (at LAN events) for example?

There is certainly a sense of social unity between gamers, as I said earlier I believe gaming can play an important role in breaking down barriers between people. When you meet someone at a LAN event you are not concerned with where they are from or what they do for a living or what their thoughts on the global economic crisis is. You accept that you are both gamers, that you enjoy doing the same thing in your spare time, and it allows you to interact on a level that a normal meeting would be unlikely to provide.

Q. Do you think players are better equipped at solving real life problems by actively playing different types of games? Does this depend on the game?

I think that if someone has the ability to play multiple games to a consistent level then that person has a better than average problem solving ability. Playing multiple games might improve such a skill for someone less adept. It does depend on the game to an extent, some games are simply far easier than others and therefore require far less intellect to master, as such they will play less of a role in terms of your adaptive or creative thinking.

Q. Would you be more inclined to play games that included pervasive real world elements? For example,  using network technologies like phones to call real people(who are actors within the game) and then transferring your findings into a virtual environment (thereby continuing the game)?

I would be unlikely to enjoy such an environment, when I do enjoy a single player game it is because I am enjoying the story line. If something is well written and animated I will be able to enjoy it as much or more than if they provided real actors to play the roles of the characters at certain stages of the game. To me it would feel like a gimmick, something that as usual would draw attention away from the construction and writing aspects of the game, for me the most important part is the story. Anything that endangers that principle is, for me, at best superfluous and at worst game breaking.

Q. Finally, do you believe we can ‘gamify’ real world problems, and therefore induce better problem solving capabilities purely based on our gaming experiences? Or are we restricted by the engines and coding of the developers?

I would say that we can in a way ‘gamify’ certain real world problems, an idea that appeared in the recently canceled series of ‘Stargate: Universe’ was that a mathematical problem had been hidden in mass produced game. The first person to solve said problem was invited to join the mission and assist the scientists involved in it. Such an idea could be use, i.e. the ‘gamification’ of an actual problem, however it would of course depend on the developers of the game. The coding and design of the game might have less significance in this sense than the creation of the game problem. By rewording a question you can make it far easier to answer, you can clarify the central part of the problem and therefore make it easier to answer. That would be the requirement of a ‘problem gamification’ team, the good news is that unlike a standard question, a game can incorporate visual and audio stimuli to the equation; perhaps making it that much easier to solve.

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