Thursday, April 29, 2010

TED Thursday: A More Immersive Reality

"Instead of providing gamers with better and more immersive alternatives to reality, I want all of us to become responsible for providing the world with a better and more immersive reality."

From McGonigal's recent talk at TED titled

'Gaming can make a better world'
“There is an economist named Edward Castronova. His work is brilliant. He looks at why people are investing so much time and energy and money, in online worlds. And he says, 'We're witnessing what amounts to no less than a mass exodus to virtual worlds and online game environments.' And he's an economist. So, he's rational. And he says ... (Laughter) Not like me -- I'm a game designer; I'm exuberant. But he says, that this makes perfect sense, because gamers can achieve more in online worlds than they can in real life. They can have stronger social relationships in games than they can have in real life. They get better feedback and feel more rewarded in games than they do in real life. So, he says for now it makes perfect sense for gamers to spend more time in virtual worlds than the real world. Now, I also agree that that is rational, for now. But it is not, by any means, an optimal situation. We have to start making the real world more like a game.”
“We've got all these amazing gamers, we've got these games that are kind of pilots of what we might do, but none of them have saved the real world yet. Well I hope that you will agree with me that gamers are a human resource that we can use to do real-world work, that games are a powerful platform for change. We have all these amazing superpowers, blissful productivity, the ability to weave a tight social fabric, this feeling of urgent optimism, and the desire for epic meaning.”
“I really hope that we can come together to play games that matter, to survive on this planet for another century. And that's my hope that you will join me in making and playing games like this. When I look forward to the next decade, I know two things for sure, that we can make any future we can imagine, and we can play any games we want. So, I say let the world-changing games begin.”

Will Wright makes toys that make worlds
“Chris was kind of wondering what kind of gods that the players would become. Because if you think about it, you know, you're going to have 15-year-olds, 20-year-olds, whatever, flying around this universe. And they might be a nurturing god. They, you know, might be boot-strapping life on planets, trying to terra-form and kind of spread civilization. You might be a vengeful god and going out and conquesting, because you actually can do that, you can go in and attack other intelligent races. You might be a networking god, kind of building alliances, which you can also do in the game, or just curious, going around and wanting to explore as much as you possibly can.”
“But basically, the reason why I make toys like this is because I think if there's one difference I could possibly make in the world, that I would choose to make, it's that I would like to somehow give people just a little bit better calibration on long-term thinking. Because I think most of the problems that our world is facing right now is the result of short-term thinking, and the fact that it is so hard for us to think 50, 100 years, or 1,000 years out. And I think by giving kids toys like this and letting them replay dynamics, you know, very long-term dynamics over the short term, and getting some sense of what we're doing now, what it's going to be like in 100 years, I think probably is the most effective thing I can be doing, probably, to help the world. And so that's why I think, personally, that toys can change the world.”

As Real As Your Life, from David Perry's talk on videogames
Using toys and games to teach philosophical concepts and to literally change the world from the ground up via gaming are both fairly radical notions.  I included the short film on videogame addiction in the mix as it relates to both of the previous talks rather nicely, or so I thought.
Games are integral to Surrealism and they are intrinsic to the underlying cultures of Riskail, including the virts and the isocolonials who have withdrawn into their fortified arcologies to totally immerse themselves in their games and constructs, having no further use for what once passed for consensual reality.  Polite Society recognizes the utility of various forms of gambling and duelling as means of both maintaining the peace and providing an outlet for competition and the regulation of opinion.  In that respect things are a bit more medieval than expected.  You literally have to back-up your opinions with force of arms, not just in academia, but in society as a whole.  In Academia things are less straight-forward and there are far more opportunities for ambushes, assassination attempts and worse.  There may be honor amongst thieves, but precious little amongst the grad students jockeying for a shot at their mentors and their position within the hierarchy.
The practice of utilizing ritualized games distributed via social networks to solve large-scale problems, plan macro-scale projects, or to wage distributed warfare against various Outside Interests, is nothing new to Riskail.  Ever since the Gamers of Jontolon won their bloodless war of independence without firing so much as a single shot, gaming has been an accepted, proven and honored component of the Rituals and Codes of Civilization.  Hives, nodes and complexes of gamers who've eschewed meatforms and colonized various dataspheric regions enmasse are recognized as equivalent to many similar-sized city-states.  Some of these nodes have become incredibly influential, such as the Estarza Goldrim who are engaged in the macroscale terraforming of worlds along the periphery of those accessed by the primary gate-networks or the Ielzuud Collekt, an eccentric collective that is obsessed with mega-engineering of system-scale construct-artforms in orbit around obscure stars outside the bounds of the Known Worlds.  Another group of disembodied gamers occupy the so-called Green Level from which they disperse an inconceivable array of biomorphisms across the void in their efforts to foment panspermia, not as a past theory, but as a present practice.  Others are less grandiose either in scale or efforts, but they are forces to be reckoned with nonetheless.
Another gamerphorm are the Oracles, (see illo above) massive and often impassive sculpted material-form entities that act as avatars for gamer-collectives or open-ended contributor networks that listen in to supplicants and plaintiffs seeking solutions to various problems which they then voluntarily take on, wrestle with, and either solve or address in their own ways.  Oracles wander across the settled regions of Known Worlds, some travel widely, others remain mostly within one urban district.  All of them are dedicated composite entities that originally had no real personality apart from the vestiges and aspects left-behind by those who chose to work through them from the dataside.  Over time they have become unique individuals in their own right, some of whom have adopted distinct names for themselves, and a few who have developed their own processing capabilities apart and aside from those of the virts and softborn who still collaborate with them, and who are now sometimes their petitioners as well.
Games embody humanity's attempts at unravelling the dynamics of chance or expressing and exploring the interplay of probability, or so say the gamblemancers who treat everything in their immediate experience as a sacred game of chance played between them and the universe.  As far as sects go, they are minor and relatively obscure, considered mostly harmless, and uncommon enough that no registered study has been undertaken by any reputable academic.
The Casinos of Riskail are notorious for offering their patrons a chance to participate in any game they care to mention.  The Bosses take this pledge to heart like a mantra seared across the mechanism that passes for their hearts and they go to extreme lengths to accomodate the whims and wishes of their patrons irregardless of ethics, morality, legalities or anything else.  As long as the price is right, they'll set things up, no questions asked.  There are no judges in the Casinos, apart from those who might be amongst the other players in the crowd, and they're none too eager to be identified.  Morality is best left at the door, or so goes the old saying attributed to Parmedreon, one of the last known aspects of the Embodied Principle of Honesty.  Of course Parmedreon was murdered in an alley by assailant or assailants unknown and so far unapprehended.  It's only been three hundred years, give or take a decade.
The Arenas are directly tied into the Casinos, and the gladiatorial pens are Casino property, which makes them morally autonomous as excluded sovreign territories that are technically no longer part of Polite Society, despite all appearances to the contrary.  The Casinos are a culture unto themselves, one that operates along opaque and byzantine rules known only unto itself and those who gain admission to the virtulects, philosatars or other dataside communities that have elected to segregate themselves behind the black voidwalls of the Casinos' residential datasperes where they engage in games so far removed from anything that the occupants of meatspace can even conceive that it is literally unspeakable, unthinkable and unimaginable.  Even the AI require dedicated filters to interface with the Casinos.
But not all gamers in Riskail are disembodied or virts.  There are numerous groups who sponsor competitors who settle new worlds, explore ancient ruins, develop trade routes, just about any activity that results in some sort of economic or social gain for some group out there has its own sponsors, supporters and circuit of competitions, many of which are fed into the datasphere and voyeuristically enjoyed by uncountable numbers of virtual spectators for all time to come.  Any and every form of adventure is a commercial commodity, one that can make more money for a roving band of mercenaries than fighting ever could.
There are also the games of the sorcerers which they play at their various salons, museum-gatherings, gallery-showings, and other rendezvous-style events.  New spells are demonstrated prior to being released into the Open Source Databases and competitions are held where specific old spells are redesigned or modified and the results of each competitor's efforts are compared and voted on by a jury of their peers.  Contests are held that play off of the old idea of cut-ups, one-in-the-other or the exquisite corpse games of old.  Only with real scrolls, actual objects and sometimes fresh corpses.  Homunculi-gladiators face-off in clandestine combats outside the Casinos, at least until the Bosses find out and move to bring the fights under house sanction and they get their cut, one way or another.  The sponsored contests between competing sorcerers and biomantists, genartists and scylloi-traditionalists are some of the most highly anticipated, violently fought and lucrative events that the Bosses have found and they have made great efforts to recruit and sponsor more and more up-and-coming competitors, often allowing dangerous individuals from outside the established cliques, cadres or colleges to come and try their luck in the arenas.  People love an underdog.  And the media surrounding these competitors serves as the fodder for countless telenovelas, psychodramas and other popular forms of mass entertainment.
Each of the Grand Houses of Riskail maintains a pool of competitors who represent them in the various games, both sacred and profane, that take place throughout the year.  Sometimes the Houses use the competitions to settle old disputes, other times it's a way to avoid ruinous internecine wars.  Some of the newer Houses have disdained to compete and lost their credibility or found themselves besieged by rioters who demanded that they field a competitor for one of the Four Great Games which have been a tradition in Riskail for over a thousand years.
The Great Games combine the Olympics with a planetary-scale circus and what amounts to a small-scale ritualized war within a contained space that is set-off from the rest of the world just for the Games and every gladiator, combat-thespian, cutter-clown, wrestler and extremiac in the near vicinty of Riskail participates.  It's a good way to make a killing, amongst other things.  It's certainly immersive.

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