Traits and Mechanisms

I watched this TED talk by Jane McGonigal on the weekend. I think I’d heard of it before but hadn’t got round to watching it. In her talk Jane discusses positive traits developed by video gaming – particularly online multiplayer games like World of Warcraft – and the value these traits could have in dealing with real world problems. Three of these traits are:

Urgent optimism – an attitude that encourages action because success appears to be very achievable
Epic meaning – the implication that the actions of a player have meaning on a grand scale
Blissful productivity – the idea that we are happier working harder in a game than in reality, in part due to the previous two traits

Jane goes on to describe some of the games her company has created that attempt to attach these traits to alternate reality games dealing with real world problems such as famine and oil shortage. I think these ideas could be quite valuable in our efforts to connect interactive gaming elements to a model of a system that has a real world counterpart.

So far this week we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about mechanisms – the devices we can put in place that allow an audience interaction with the model. In our game-making we’ve shifted a lot of focus to the precision of those mechanisms, and we’ve worked out different styles and how they could be useful.

This article from Lost Garden has some really thorough questions for designing (video) game mechanisms. There’s some excellent provocations for adjusting the tightness and looseness of mechanisms that are helping me think about mechanisms in a more detailed way.

Today, we created a game called A Tale of Four Farms, focusing mainly on developing a mechanism. Out of a set of possible sites, the players silently vote for the placement of an item on the island (mill, bridge, forest, etc) by showing a certain number on a die. Players then turn the relevant card (eg. “mill”), with one  player discovering a tick on their card. That player has the power to put that item wherever they choose – they can put it in their most desired spot or choose to listen to the votes of the group. As the game progresses, several items have more than one tick – for example, two players must place half a bridge each and co-operate to achieve a full bridge.

It was a bit rough on the first play, mainly due to the lack of goals for the players, but I think the mechanism could be very effective for a large group exploring a well-described system. I look forward to revisiting it and seeing what it can do.

Four Farms from Modelling Play on Vimeo.

What can the interactive gaming elements of our performance do to enhance the modeling component?

– Nathan


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