Sep
27
2011

Are Videogames the Key to Our Future?

 

Here’s an interesting statistic.  By age 21, the average American will have spent approximately 10,000 hours playing video games. Coincidentally, 10,000 hours is also the time a student will spend in in the classroom  from 5th grade to senior graduation, or the amount of time a doctor will spend in medical school.

Here’s another statistic.  The average MMORPG* player spends 22 hours in-game per week…quite literally a part-time job.  (*Massively Multiplayer Online Role Play Game – World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, Rift, Etc.)

 

There is obviously something ridiculously engaging going on here. Some people even say addictive, but I think that is missing what is really happening. Addiction does not involve making an active choice. I believe that as immersive as many of these games are today, players are not “escaping real life” in as much as they are creating a different life– One that they are better at – with clearer instructions, immediate cues if something is good or bad, no built-in prejudices, and absolute recognition of achievement.

 

Like it or not, games are an exceptionally important part of our lives and will be more so in the future. What surprises me is that a phenomenon that is clearly such a large part of our society that it rivals the time spent on public education, is seen as at best a way to pass the time, or at worst “rotting our brains.”  Is it really? Is opening a book really better? Or staring out the window vaguely paying attention in a mandatory World Geography class?

 

Let’s do a quick test. If you know someone who plays WOW, ask them to point on a game map where Howling Fjord is.  Now ask them to point to Iran on a real map or for that matter, even what continent it is part of?

 

Which geography program do you think has been more effective?

 

I believe there is a lot we can learn from games about motivating and teaching people in the real world.  I also believe that if we better understand what people are really getting out of games like MMORPGs, then we can find a way to use that collective horsepower to do real good.  Why can’t we make it as interesting for 12 million people to cure cancer as it is to kick the crap out of the Litch King?

 

The synthesis of an idea…

 

This series originally grew out of some thoughts I was putting together for work. Being that I am a marketer, but also an avid gamer, I was thinking about how I can build an all-encompassing marketing program that gets people as interested, enthusiastic, and ultimately engaged with a product or service as something like World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, or Lord of the Rings Online.

 

What is it that makes these games so addictive to people? That makes you want to get “Just one more level” before bed? Creates a social environment so strong thatyou will put your virtual life in a complete strangers hands with no questions asked? So motivating that it gets you to do hours of repetitive tasks simply for the privilege of doing it more?  …and for the educators  out there, what gets a person who failed math so inspired that they will spend hours building complex spreadsheets and statistical models to determine if that new 2 hand staff with an extra bump to mastery and spirit is worth giving up the crit and regen buff on their current main hand mace and offhand combo?  You think players aren’t learning something in these games? Think again. This is a hell of a lot more complex than the typical “John leaves Toledo at going west at 45 miles per hour…”

 

In this series I want to explore a few things about gaming:

  1.   What makes people knowingly choose spending time in a game over other options (say sunlight, friends, exercise, homework, and even, gasp, sex…like, with a girl…in real life)
  2.   If time spent playing these games is really wasted? Are we really learning anything, and if so, what?
  3.  What we can glean from these findings that apply to business, social interaction, and education?
  4.  And ultimately, what can we do in the real world to make it as fun as virtual ones and harness the tremendous potential of masses of engaged desk monkeys.

My immediate goal is to build a marketing/usage/engagement campaign using everything that makes these games great in real world business. I’m genuinely curious to see what can be done, and I might as well do it while I have a few million of someone else’s marketing dollars at my disposal.  Goal number two is to figure out how apply these findings to education and other issues.   This series will be that journey.

I will leave you with a final thought before I wrap up for today.

12 Million World of Warcraft players have collectively logged 51,946,800,000 hours in Azeroth, toiling diligently to make a fictitious world a better place, safe from evil –and enjoying every minute of it, even the “grind.”  That’s 5.93 MILLION YEARS.  Think about the Earth-changing implications of that number.  How many hours have been spent working on a cure for cancer? Putting an end to world hunger? Renewable energy?

What could we do with 12 million engaged and highly motivated people working 22 hours a week on a common cause?

If we can make the REAL world as engrossing, rewarding, and fun as its virtual counterparts, we might get somewhere
That’s it for now.  Be cool – every you.

 

JJ

 

 

 

 

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