“Gamers always believe that an epic win is possible and that it’s always worth trying and trying now.” — Jane McGonigal
According to Jane McGonigal, an epic win is “an outcome that is so extraordinarily positive you had no idea it was even possible until you achieved it … it was almost beyond the threshold of imagination and when you get there you are shocked to discover what you are truly capable of.”
Save the World in Real-Life By Turning Real-World Challenges into Games
Wow! What if we had more epic wins in life. (If you saw my post on Trends for 2011, one of the key insights is that it’s becoming a gamers world.)
Jane is a game designer and her goal is to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online games.
Her master plan is to convince more people to spend more times playing bigger and better games.
What an Epic Win Looks Like
According to Jane, what you see on the face of somebody on the verge of an epic win is:
- sense of urgency
- a little bit of fear, but intense concentration
- deep, deep focus
- crinkles above the eyes and mouth that are a sign of optimism
That’s the face Jane says, “we need to see on millions of problem solvers all over the world as we try to tackle the obstacles of the next century … the face of someone who against all odds is on the verge of an epic win.”
We’re Better at Games Than We Are at Real Life
Jane got her got her PhD on why we are better at games than we are in real life. She says that when we’re in game worlds, many of us become the best versions of ourselves:
- motivated to do something that matters
- inspired to collaborate and cooperate
- the most likely to help at a moments notice
- the most likely to stick with a problem as long as it takes
- to get up after failure and try again
Jane contrasts this with what happens in real life:
- when we confront obstacles, we often don’t feel that way
- we feel overcome
- we feel overwhelmed
- we feel anxious, maybe depressed, frustrated or cynical
Take from the Games and Apply to Real Life
What makes epic wins possible in online worlds? What makes World of Warcraft, for example, the ideal collaborative problem solving environment?
Jane wanted to figure out, what exactly is it about games that makes it impossible to feel like we can’t achieve everything, and how can we take those feelings from games and apply them to real world work.
Here’s what she found:
- Missions that matter. Jane says, “whenever you show up in one of these online games, especially in World of Warcraft, there are lots and lots of different characters who are willing to trust you with a world saving mission, right away … but not just any mission …”
- Pushing the limits of capability. it’s a mission that is perfectly matched with your current level in the game. So you can do it, they never give you a challenge that you can’t achieve, but it is on the verge of what you’re capable of so you have to try hard.
- A coalition of the willing. Jane says, “there are also tons of collaborators everywhere you go, hundreds of thousands of people ready to work with you to achieve your epic mission. That’s not something we have in a real life that easily — the sense that at our finger tips are tons of collaborators.”
- An inspiring story. Jane says, “there’s this epic story, this inspiring story of why we’re there, and what we’re doing.”
- Positive feedback. we get all this positive feedback, you guys have heard of leveling up, and +1 strength, and +1 intelligence, we don’t get that kind of constant feedback in real life.
As an aside, I find this especially interesting because this is how I lead project teams at work. I always turn them into an epic adventure, with inspiring stories, missions that matter, and positive feedback along the journey.
This recipe helps me find people who are willing to sign up for the cause well beyond our immediate team.
Four Things Gamers are Getting Good At
Gamers spend a lot of time getting good at what they do. Jane asks the question, with the amount of time gamers spend, what exactly are they becoming virtuosos at? She says it’s four key things:
- Urgent optimism – Jane says, “think of this as extreme self motivation. urgent optimism is the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success. Gamers always believe that an epic win is possible and that it’s always worth trying and trying now, gamers don’t sit around.”
- Social Fabric – Jane says, “we like people better after we play a game with them, even if they’ve beaten us badly. The reason is it takes a lot of trust to play a game with someone, we trust that they will spend their time with us, that they will play by the same rules, value the same goal, stay with the game until it’s over, and so playing a game together actually builds up bonds and trust and cooperation and we actually build stronger social relationships.”
- Blissful productivity – Jane says, “we know when we’re playing a game that we’re actually happier working hard than we are relaxing or hanging out. We know that we are optimized as human beings to do hard and meaningful work and gamers are willing to work hard all the time if they’re given the right work.”
- Epic meaning – Jane says, “gamers love to be attached to awe inspiring missions, to human planetary scale stories.”
Jane McGonigal on Gaming Can Make a Better World
Watch Jane in her TED talk on how we really can use games to start to tackle some of the World’s greatest challenges:
Here is the direct URL: http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world.html
Gaming for a Better World
Jane works at Institute for the Future, where you can find out more about some of the interesting research and possibilities. Jane shares three examples of games that test creating epic wins in the real-world:
- World without Oil – The idea is to play it before you live it and it’s a massively collaborative imagining of the first 32 weeks of a global crisis.
- Superstruct – “Superstruct invites players to imagine life in 2019 and to document and record how they, their families, local communities, or extended social networks might respond to a catastrophic population collapse.”
- Evoke – “The goal of the social network game is to help empower young people all over the world, and especially young people in Africa, to come up with creative solutions to our most urgent social problems.”
Get Your Game On … in Work and Life
Make the real world more like a game. Go on epic missions, create inspiring stories, push the limits of your capability, find coalitions of the willing, and unleash a version of your best self.
… and if you fail, get up and try again.
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