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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Portrait of a female artist

Fixing Reality: The Game Is On!

Joop Ringelberg
Apr 26, 2019 · 4 min read

A game gives people a sense of purpose, well-defined actions to take, a measure of progress to the goal and, in the case of a multi-player game, a sense of belonging, of fitting in.

The gaming industry has long been aware of these fundamental truths. They explain why so many people spend so much time in virtual worlds and get so much satisfaction out of it. In contrast, real life often does not give the same level of purpose and satisfaction. What could we not attain if we managed to give real life a bit of the same shine and purpose found in games? How many wrongs in society could we not mend, if the same effort was poured into it as we invest in games? Jane McGonical writes in Reality is Broken:

What if we decided to use everything we know about game design to fix what’s wrong with reality? What if we started to live our real lives like gamers, lead our real businesses and communities like game designers, and think about solving real-world problems like computer and video game theorists?

Recently, I became aware of a very real effort that, in my opinion, can be understood to take up this idea. It is the Next Generation Internet project of the European Community, that strives towards “an Internet that respects human and societal values, privacy, participation and diversity, and offers new functionalities to support people’s real needs and address global sustainability challenges” ( Or, in the words of Marta Arniana, Rob van Kranenburg et al, in their book “A better Place”:

…these visions must create spaces for creativity and imagination and open new possibilities for businesses and citizens to thrive without it being at each other’s expense.

It also reminded me of my own work on Perspectives: a design language for co-operation. Here is why.

When a group of people collect around a purpose, they need a form to express themselves. Purpose gives direction and meaning, but does not necessarily translate into action and progress. This is where a co-operation scheme comes in. It allows people to take a role and responsibility, gives them actions to perform and concrete results to strive for. A co-operation scheme functions like the rules that make a game: it allows people to play or work together.

It does not matter what the purpose is. Whether it is a church bazaar, or a motor rally, or canvassing for an election, organising a food bank, the annual performance of a music association, a collection, neighbours wanting to support an elderly person in the street, etc. Goodwill, a sense of purpose, a goal; they are necessary, but not sufficient conditions for collective work to happen. It’s got to be organised! This almost always translates into: someone’s got to organise it. But this active, experienced or gifted individual is not always around to make things happen.

Experienced organizers know this. Successful organisations have scripts to record experience in. Think of on-boarding procedures in companies. Think of schools organising a pupil performance for parents. Or a student association throwing a party. Scripts accumulate the experience of years of organising, allowing a new cohort to make things happen again. Think of ordering the chairs and tables well in advance! Contract entertainment, create invitations, etc. A script lists these tasks and many more, points out dependencies, describes responsibilities.

A script usually comes in the form of a text. But what if it would take on the form of software support? Tailor made screens for those playing a role, showing the tasks to perform? That inform co-operators of progress? Of subtasks to carry out? That show details of things ordered, of articles still lacking? Show dates, times, places that have been settled on?

This is the promise of Perspectives. It is a language to translate such scripts into software support around a common purpose, a goal, an event. It allows one to outline responsibilities, describe actions, put them in an appropriate context.

The internet enabled the massive, online games we know today, that attract millions of people to virtual worlds. But it could just as well be the co-operation infrastructure that will help us build a more inclusive, open and just society.

Game on!

This column is part three of a series. Previous columns are Stop Talking About Data! and On Killer Apps and Co-operation. Here is the series introduction.

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