Games are more than just a frivolous way to have fun and pass the time. They are an essential part of us. They capture the spirit of play and fairness we strive to have toward each other. Always teaching us to become smarter, stronger, more strategic, and better than we were before. They are rooted in our DNA, as far down as the family tree goes. In a sense, you could say that society itself is nothing more than a big intricate game. Complete with rules, points, rewards, strategy, luck, and everything else that makes up the playing field as we know it.
Isn’t it about time for a new kind of game with a more positive impact on the world? Perhaps one that can make anyone into more of a hero in real life? Luckily for us, it’s pretty easy to make heroes! You just need three ingredients: mad skills, some righteous quests, and the tools to carry them out. People tend to underestimate games, but they’ve changed our history in major ways, and can do the same for our future!
It’s not just an entertaining notion. Games are actually addressing real world problems already! Big ones too, that we couldn’t have solved otherwise. If you don’t believe me, listen to Jane McGonigal’s TED talk for a compelling set of reasons why we should head in this direction. She has been a champion of this cause for over 15 years now, and sits on the board of directors for the organization Games for Change, which features almost 200 Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) that help to drive real progress in some way or another.
There’s the famous protein folding problem, trying to deduce a troublesome HIV enzyme structure which eluded researchers for 13 years. They turned it into a giant game called Foldit, and their community of gamers solved it within weeks. Another website called Zooniverse houses over 90 citizen-powered scientific research games like this. Everything from assisting astronomers to find habitable exoplanets to helping zoologists track bat populations.
The average 21-year-old gamer has already logged 10,000 hours. Enough time to proverbially master any skill. Worldwide, more than 3 billion hours are spent playing video games online per week. Some people say that’s time wasted.
McGonigal, on the other hand, thinks we need to be playing more video games! She defends these billions of hours as time spent learning the necessary skills for becoming a hero. Not just through faster thumb reflexes, mind you, but by assimilating 4 heroic traits of the characters we embody. Specifically: having a sense of urgent optimism, getting experience within new social fabrics, being blissfully productive, and applying efforts toward an epic meaning.
Take, for example, the looming climate crisis. Pretty huge deal, right? Even in the slim chance that the vast majority of climate scientists are wrong, we would still get renewable energy and a cleaner environment out of the deal. So what’s stopping us?
There are two primary roots, as I see it. The first, and biggest, is our economic system. Most consumer goods and services are still produced unsustainably, and most people have a really hard time figuring out what the best options are (and/or affording them). Other people just don’t care, or appreciate the true gravity of their daily purchases. If the system was set up to reward sustainability over frugality, then people would go the extra length to do what is right.
Consumers and businesses alike. The objective could shift to compete to be the best people we can be, with the biggest measurable positive impact (as opposed to the biggest measurable positive account balance). With this as our main quest, money becomes subservient at best. Almost every modern game has an economy within it, but rarely is it the point of the game. Still, whether it’s money, rupees, gold coins, gems, hats, souls, bolts, or bottle caps, currency is a ubiquitous trait across essentially every video game genre. It’s hardwired in our brains. May as well put it to good use.
I already wrote too much about economics last month, so let’s not get bogged down here. Suffice it to say that we can use game mechanics to incentivize people to maximize their social responsibility in the ways they buy everything.
Now, onto the second root issue underlying climate change: big businesses all over the world routinely shape our laws by “lobbying” our politicians with their “campaign support.” To help level the playing field we need a real, working direct democracy. We must use it to actively question the status quo, and lay out the best solutions we can agree with based on empirical truths. These can be turned into objectives for people to accomplish in all sorts of ways. Each of us can become quest givers as well as quest takers.
With any luck, we could help make it harder for offending polluters to bribe our decision makers into getting their way. We could also put all sorts of practices into action to mitigate the damage being done. This topic is another giant blog post on its own, though. The bottom line is simply that we should be able to play by our own (completely legal) rules, and use them to make real changes we want to see in our communities.
The missing ingredient that moves a theory into action is sufficient motivation. As important as they are, economics and politics are about as boring as it gets. In order to motivate each other to do what it takes to improve our communities, we should have a way to interface that’s more simple, fun, and effective than our current way of life. There’s already tons of massive multiplayer co-op games with the mission to save the world. How about one more?
We’d love it if you would play this new game with us. One of real actions, and real consequences. It’s called YourCascadia because it’s yours to do whatever you want with it, and because we’re starting it in the magical land of Cascadia, where anything is possible. We just need your help to bring it to life!
No, of course you don’t have to live in Cascadia. You can play from wherever you live, and change the name/design/code/whatever. It’s an open source project, so do what you will. YourCascadia is the first of its kind, with unlimited potential scope and radical freedom to create better rules and real results. The more people you invite to play, the bigger the issues we can come together to solve!
Make sure to check out https://www.yourcascadia.org for more information
or email firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or to get involved.
Disclaimer: This post was written by Elliott, who is spearheading this project. The views are his, and do not necessarily represent those of YourCascadia as a whole. YourCascadia is just a tool, and has no views. It will be controlled entirely by its members via a direct democracy once it is built and running. Want to write a post here? Let us know!