In the future, video games will have their own Oscars and the nominees for 2024's awards will include games that let you print 3D food, gamify a mash-up of gambling and savings accounts, and earn real-world power-ups for your favorite pro sports teams.
Speaking to a packed auditorium at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at New York University for the kick-off of this year's Games for Change Festival, author and game designer Jane McGonigal walked the audience through the idea of ten-year forecasting and how it impacts game design.
The idea, she explained, is similar to how Jelly Belly jellybeans can be mixed and combined to create different flavors, like a banana split or candy apple. But with forecasting, researchers look at signals, things that have become important topics of discussion, and see how they could combine in the future to create something new.
In her latest ten year forecasting, McGonigal, a game designer, researcher and author, looked at a variety of signals and came up with five futuristic games inspired by the ideas that seem to be building buzz. In this imagined 2024, video games have finally come into their own and now have a gaming academy awards of sorts. These, then, would be the five nominees for those awards, and how they were inspired.
Everwin is inspired by three signals. The first is the creation in some states of lottery-linked savings accounts. When someone makes a deposit in one of these accounts, it automatically enters them into a lottery to win money. The second is research into how dopamine priming can serve as a motivation strategy. This essentially means that the desire to see immediate reward can be used to spur people to invest in long-term strategies. And the final signal is the rise of social and online gambling.
When you combine these three signals, the end result is Everwin, or gambling for change.
The idea, McGonigal said, is perhaps economists will start to see a correlation between the sales of lottery tickets with the areas with the highest income inequality. In reaction to this, perhaps states will start to use lotteries that will turn any purchase into a direct deposit into a savings account. It would be a loss leader for gambling companies, but could make it easier to make legal broader social gaming.
Magical Mystery Dinner
The signals for this imagined game include the advent of 3D printers that can make food, research that shows Oculus Rift can be used to change how people taste things and a cow simulator that can be used to reduce meat consumption.
The result is Games for Mealtime, a movement that would be inspired by the knowledge that the consumption of meat has a high carbon impact cost.
"You are playing a game and eating food out of your printer that tastes good because of the Oculus Rift you are wearing," McGonigal said.
Walk My Mile
This game is inspired by Facebook's purchase of the company behind Oculus Rift, Stanford Human Virtual Interaction Research Lab's work at prototyping virtual reality games that can be used for empathy building and the rise of autobiographical video games. It also looks at the 24 hour video of people's lives created by Global Lives and StoryCorps, a traveling installation that allows people to interview a friend or relative, record the audio and turn it into a record of someone's life.
The result, McGonigal predicted, would be Games that Democratize the Memoir.
"Imagine a world where Facebook connects two people in the world, allow them to interview one another to get a lifestory and turn it into a game," McGonigal said. "Then you can put on Oculus Rift and walk a mile in their shoes.
"We know that when we have these virtual experiences, we create neurons. Maybe we will solve the empathy gap in the future."
This mix of sports and video game was inspired by a couple of interesting facts and innovations.
Most users abandon fit trackers like Fitbit or Nike's Fuelband after 90 days, McGonigal said. But there has also been a rise in really successful fitness games like Zombie Run! Other inspirations include Healthball, a fantasy football league created by a bunch of out of shape gamers who wanted to combine fitness with the game, and work McGonigal did with Nike+ that hoped to allow gamers to use Fuelband fuel to help your team in fantasy leagues.
The recent rise in concussion lawsuits is another inspiration, she said.
The result is a game that would reinvent professional sports.
"In the future of professional sports you would pool your exercise with other fans, like all of the steps you take or miles you run, to buy an optional power-up in a real game," McGonigal said.
These real game power-ups could mean, for instance, giving the San Francisco 49ers an extra down or allowing a baseball pitcher to use a greased baseball or a hitter to use a corked bat.
"Pro sports would make you active," she said. "And you would be physically empowering your favorite teams."
The inspiration for this educational game is pulled from the rising doubts cast on the current educational systems. Reports question the value and cost of higher education, the growing importance of online schooling, widespread gamification in classrooms and the growing concern over social jet lag, or the impact an early school day has on students.
The result is a game for a future without college.
In this particular game, the team took the signals a little bit further to a more realized vision to see how it could play out.
McGonigal played a video which showed how a future without the traditional bricks-and-mortar universities could mean a more meaningful education for many students. In the video, a student wakes up with the help of a circadian body clock alarm, studies by playing a question and answer game with a computer, earns levels instead of grades, and goes out into the real world to virtually apply his knowledge. The Socrates 2.0 program also includes things like meet-ups where a mix of experts, scientists, professors, hobbyists and students can gather to discuss theories and educate one another and using the same alarm clock to know when to go to bed.
McGonigal wrapped up her talk by having the audience vote for the winner of the 2024 awards and then noting that that same year would be the first time a game developer would receive a Nobel Peace Prize: Alexey Pajitnov for his work on Tetris.