Another book finished: Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How they can Change the World by Jane McGonigal. I've seen Jane speak at SXSW — she's phenomenal. The core ideas are not new to me (because I've seen her speak), but she fleshes them out in more detail & adds some nuance and research. Which is nice, and increasingly rare for a Current Thinky Book — I'm getting frustrated by books that don't have anything more to say than what the author's 20 minute TED talk said.
Anyway, these are the bits that caught my eye. More definitional & pragmatic, so more from the front of the book–the back of the book is more the world-changing ARG stuff, which is fine but not what I'm looking for right now.
First, an examination of two related concepts: hard fun and fun failure. (Funnily enough a Berenstein Bears book I was reading with my daughter also covered hard fun.)
Hard fun is what happens when we experience positive stress, or eustress (a combination of the Greek eu, for "well-being," and stress.) From a physiological and neurological standpoint, eustress is virtually identical to negative stress: we produce adrenaline, our reward circuitry is activated, and blood flow increases to the attention control centers of the brain. (p 32)But without positive failure feedback, this belief is easily undermined. If failure feels random or passive, we lose our sense of agency—and optimism goes down the drain. As technology journalist Clive Thompson reminds us, “It’s only fun to fail if the game is fair—and you had every chance of success.”That’s why Nicole Lazzaro spends so much time consulting with game developers about how, exactly, to design failure sequences that are spectacular and engaging. The trick is simple, but the effect is powerful: you have to show players their own power in the game world, and if possible elicit a smile or a laugh. As long as our failure is interesting, we will keep trying—and remain hopeful that we will succeed eventually. (p. 67)
The game interface made it easy to take action and see your impact right away. When you examined a document, you had a panel of bright, shiny buttons to press depending on what you’d found. First, you’d decide what kind of document you were looking at: a claim form, proof (a receipt, invoice, or purchase order), a blank page, or “something we haven’t thought of.” Then you’d determine the level of interest of the document: “Interesting,” “Not interesting,” or “Investigate this! I want to know more.” When you’d made your selection, the button lit up, giving you a satisfying feeling of productivity, even if all you’d found was a blank page that wasn’t very interesting. And there was always a real hope of success: the promise of finding the next “duck pond” to keep you working quickly through the flow of documents.A real-time activity feed showed the names of players logged in recently and the actions they’d taken in the game. This feed made the site feel social. Even though you were not directly interacting with other players, you were copresent with them on the site and sharing the same experience. There was also a series of top contributor lists, for the previous forty-eight hours as well as for all time, to motivate both short-term and long-term participation. And to celebrate successful participation, as well as sheer volume of participation, there was also a “best individual discoveries” page that identified key findings from individual players. Some of these discoveries were over-the-top luxuries offensive to one’s sense of propriety: a £240 giraffe print or a £225 fountain pen, for example. Others were mathematical errors or inconsistencies suggesting individuals were reimbursed more than they were owed. As one player noted, “Bad math on page 29 of an invoice from MP Denis MacShane, who claimed £1,730 worth of reimbursement, when the sum of those items listed was only £1,480.”But perhaps most importantly, the website also featured a section labeled “Data: What we’ve learned from your work so far.” This page put the individual players’ efforts into a much bigger context—and guaranteed that contributors would see the real results of their efforts. (p. 222-223)
The logic behind these practices is that if people are willing to contribute for free, they'll be even happier to contribute when they're compensated. But compensating people for their contributions is not a good way to increase global participation bandwidth, for two key reasons.
First, as numerous scientific studies have shown, compensation typically decreases motivation to engage in activities we would otherwise freely enjoy. If we are paid to do something we would otherwise have done out of interest–such as reading, drawing, participating in a survey, or solving puzzles–we are less likely to do so in the future without getting paid. Compensation increases participation only among groups who would never engage otherwise–and as soon as you stop paying them, they stop participating.
Second, there are natural limits on the monetary resources we can provide in a community of participants. Any given project will have only so much financial capital to give away; even a successful business will eventually hit an upper limit of what it can afford to pay for contributions. Scarce rewards like money and prizes artificially limit the amount of participation a network can inspire and support. (p. 242-3)
Finally, an explicit crowd-sourcing=MMORPG analogy with Wikipedia:
Second, Wikipedia has good game mechanics. Player action has a direct and clear result: edits appear instantly on the site, giving users a powerful sense of control over the environment. This instant impact creates optimism and a strong sense of self-efficacy. It features unlimited work opportunities, of escalating difficulty. As the Wikipedians describe it, "Players can take on quests (WikiProjects, efforts to organize many articles into a single larger article), fight boss-level battles (featured articles that are held to higher standards than ordinary articles), and enter battle arenas (interventions against article vandalism)." It also has a personal feedback system that helps Wikipedians feel like they are improving and making personal progress as they contribute. "Players can accumulate experience points (edit count), allowing them to advance to higher levels (lists of Wikipedians by number of edits)." (p. 230 -1)