早期的社交游戏灵感来源于《龙与地下城》，这是款以文字为基础的多用户地下城（游戏邦注：下文简称MUD）游戏。MUD游戏开发的重大转折点是持续性世界的产生，游戏可以在玩家未登录的情况下继续进行下去。技术进步使得这些基于文字的游戏发展成为大型多人在线角色扮演游戏（游戏邦注：下文简称MMORPG），比如获得巨大成功的《魔兽世界》。Cole & Griffiths将MMORPG描述成“带有先进和细化的视觉和听觉环境，完全成熟的多人世界，玩家在其中创建个人化角色”。近期，现实互动游戏（游戏邦注：下文简称ARG）专注于仿真体验，游戏可以贯穿于不同媒体中，跳出网络世界融入现实世界中。这些游戏鼓励玩家通过群体智慧展开协作，在游戏中探寻解决方案。ARG游戏制作者Jane McGonigal相信，拟真游戏是首批将广泛渗透和集中的网络技术应用于集体社交和政治活动中的应用。
虚拟世界为并行学习提供了平台，人们在此世界中的经验不仅在于获得信息，还会得到新的知识。而且，他们还在决策活动和战略研发中直接使用大脑。据Johnson所述，游戏中脑活动的重点不在玩家想的是什么，而在于他们思考的方式。玩游戏中时的脑开发使人在自然规则、社会经济学和智力技能得到提升，因而产生积极情绪。频繁奖励系统和持续激励的玩法对这些积极情绪有所帮助，玩家很少有厌倦和挫败感，因为他们面临的挑战是根据玩家现有的能力精心设计。Fredrickson & Joiner曾表示，积极情绪会螺旋式上升，逐渐积聚和混合。就玩家个人而言，这种经历永生不忘，对将来的游戏体验产生影响。积极情绪对游戏中玩家的体验能产生许多有利的效果。这些幸福感不仅能推动玩家间的协作和提高任务执行力，也能提高乐观思维，以更具创意性的方式解决问题。积极性使得玩家考虑情况的细枝末节并做出回应。玩家的心智被拓宽，让他们能够看得更远，在面对逆境时能处理得更好。
在MMORPG中获得成功需要社交天分和团队技能，因为玩家需要合作来完成任务。《魔兽世界》等游戏中的公会让同趣玩家汇集在一起。在《魔兽世界》中，随着玩家等级提升，游戏会促使玩家加入公会。玩家面临的挑战将变得无法单人取胜，玩家为获得成功需要进行协作。Castronova相信人们在虚拟世界中学习社交技能的速度比真实生活快得多。这种好处在ARG的设计中同样得到体现，在此类游戏中不合作根本无法解决问题。以《I Love Bees》（游戏邦注：设计这款ARP的目的在于推动新版《光晕》的发布）为例，游戏随机向玩家发放个人包，只有将信息汇集和共享才能明白其中的意义。玩家只能通过协作来交换彼此的信息。玩家间不再是敌对的关系，游戏系统驱动他们展开协作来实现共同的目标。当玩家有了共同的目的，对知识的探求就不再属于个人行为，而带有协作性。ARG设计师将游戏架构在显示和虚拟世界之上，再次让两个领域间的界限变得模糊。这种做法体现在ARG通常可见的警句中，及“这不是个游戏”。玩家位于两个世界之间，丝毫未曾察觉二者的界限。“虚拟”已经失去其原本的含义，玩家在这些空间中的互动是真实的，因而对他们来说两个世界都是真实的。这些游戏导致玩家协作起来解决虚拟环境和现实世界中存在的问题。现在玩家可以确定游戏可以也确实能影响到现实生活。
现代社会已让人们有了业余时间，而人们也会寻找填充业余时间的方式。Shirky将这段时间视为认知过剩。因为存在这段时间，此前社会主要将其消耗在电视机上，但媒体世界的变迁使我们现在可以变得完全参与娱乐中。我们开始逐渐从这种业余时间消耗中清醒，妥善地利用这段时间，在发现、产生和分享知识中产生更大的作用。我们开始意识到，以人们为目标但并未将其容纳其中的媒体不值得人们驻足。Von Ahn（游戏邦注：卡内基梅隆大学计算机科学系教授）对我们如何利用这种认知过剩来解决某些大问题。利用我们在游戏中的发现，Von Ahn已经设计出简单的游戏来在互联网上解决图像标签等问题。通过玩虚拟游戏，玩家可以开动他们的大脑并产生对全人类有益的结果。每个细微的投入都可能产生结果，而总结果比各投入部分相加要大得多。大量玩家每人投入小部分精力就可以成功解决非常复杂的问题。我们确实能够对现实世界产生影响。
The Positive Spiral of Social Gaming: It can Save the World!
Rapid developments in technology have resulted in new ways to communicate and socialise. One portion of the growing array of social networking mediums is social gaming. Technology has spurred us into feeling that our existing world is broken. Unlike real life, gaming is based on frequent positive reinforcements and rewards, leading to a challenging and motivating environment. Society is choosing to escape into these places where frequent positive reinforcements create a self perpetuating upward spiral of good emotions, which lead towards emotional wellbeing. Collaboration in social gaming contributes towards the social and emotional wellbeing between the players, creating a supportive environment that exists online and overflows into real world activities. Social networks are assortative, where happy players are attracted to other happy players resulting in an ever increasing upward spiral within the social network. As we slowly begin to wake from our 20th Century consumer sleep into a society of producers and sharers, a cognitive surplus exists where we can put these skills to a greater good. Together this positively charged, motivated collaboration of social gamers are forming co-operatives of collective intelligence that have the ability to solve the problems of the world.
Play is a very important part of our social and emotional development. Castronova states that “the urge to play is buried very deeply in our psyches, well below rational thought and somewhere above the urge to eat and have sex”. Gaming has been part of our everyday life since ancient times where it was first developed to distract the citizens of Lydia from an extended famine. Traditional games were developed as social activities; however, early online and personal gaming developments transformed gaming into an isolating, individual activity. These isolating games are an abnormality in the development of gaming. The return to social gaming has allowed us to utilise gaming to escape into virtual social networks or communities.
Early examples of social gaming are the Dungeons and Dragons inspired, text based multi-user dungeon (MUD) games. An important turning point with the development of MUDs was the creation of a persistent world, where game play continued even when the players were not logged in. Technological advancements saw these text based environments develop into massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) such as the hugely successful World of Warcraft. Cole & Griffiths describe MMORPGs as “fully developed multiplayer universes with an advanced and detailed visual and auditory world in which players create an individualistic character”. More recently, alternate reality gaming (ARGs) has developed as an immersive force, where games are remediated through different media, escaping out of the online world and into the real world landscape. These games encourage cooperation through the collective intelligence of the players in order to achieve a solution to the game. Jane McGonigal, a creator of ARGs, believes that “immersive gaming is one of the first applications poised to harness the increasingly widespread penetration and convergence of network technologies for collective social and political action”.
Mayra clarifies that, importantly, these places should not be referred to as online games, but virtual worlds. To the players, a major purpose of these spaces is the cultivation of a life and a persona, not solely the gaming experience. By escaping into these virtual worlds we are fleeing a world where industrialisation and socio-economic changes have created a broken reality. Society is looking for something else because our lives are “all about rubbish”. According to Jenkins modern reality is responsible for a breakdown of existing real life ties, and people are looking for new communities online. By escaping into these virtual communities, players feel that they have more control over their environment and they are able to exert a greater impact on their world within these spaces. Their virtual life is just what they make it.
And, the ‘dirty little secret’ about gaming – it’s not all fun; it’s also hard fun, hard work that is satisfying. In these persistent worlds, new challenges are just out of reach but achievable, and this creates motivation to persist, combined with a reason to strive, combined with frequent rewards which are designed explicitly to maximise returns. McGonigal believes that this push to escape reality has resulted in the development of an army of virtuoso gamers who are good at: urgent optimism; weaving a tight social fabric; blissful productivity; and epic meaning. Now that sounds like a powerful list of attributes that can contribute towards a greater good. Many of these empowered players dream of a life where their virtual worlds become real, where experiences are as rich and rewarding as they are in the game. Castronova poses the question: if someone were to create a space more engaging than reality, would anyone bother to stay in the real world? However, according to McGonigal, ARGs are creating “players who feel more capable, more confident, more expressive, more engaged and more connected in their everyday lives”. Further, McGonigal wonders why real life cannot be as engaging as virtual worlds, a place where “[e]veryday environments can and should be places for group play”. If we can apply the same engaging characteristics used by game designers to encourage participation in the real world, this will create a more inspiring reality.
These virtual worlds provide a platform for collateral learning where the experience is not only about acquiring information, but discovering new knowledge; however, they also directly engage the brain in decisions making activities and the development of strategy. According to Johnson, the important point about brain activity in gaming is not what the player is thinking about, but the way in which they are thinking. Brain development during game play is fuelled by the development of physical, socioeconomically and intellectual skills leading to the creation of positive emotions. The frequent reward systems and constant motivating play contributes to these positive emotions where “[c]omplacency and boredom are rarely encountered, but neither is frustration, since challenges are thoughtfully calibrated to the existing capabilities of players”. The amassing of positive emotions, Fredrickson & Joiner tell us, lead to an upwards spiral which is accumulative and compound. The spiral is self perpetuating, affecting future gaming experiences. Positive emotions have an array of beneficial effects on player’s experiences within the game. These feelings of well being not only improve cooperation among players and augment task performance, they also enhance optimistic thinking which leads to more creative problem solving. Positively affected gamers “consider the details of the situation and respond accordingly”. Players experience a broadening of the mind, giving them a greater capacity to see a broader perspective and cope better when faced with adversity.
We have this group of positively inspired, virtuoso gamers optimistically solving problems and the real gain is that they are attracted to each other due to the assortative nature of online social networking. In digital worlds, where physical locality and characteristics are less important, players tend to magnetise towards each other based on common interests or like-to-like. Also known as homophily, this phenomenon is our “tendency to link with one another in ways that confirm, rather than test, our core beliefs”. The reciprocal linkages that are created between these positively charged players give rise to a self reinforcing positive spiral while eliciting positive emotions within the network further influencing task performance and individual wellbeing.
Success in MMORPGs requires social aptitude and team player skills as players cooperate to achieve tasks. Guilds, in games such as World of Warcraft, provide a support group of like minded gamers. World of Warcraft is designed to propel serious gamers into guilds as they move through higher levels. Challenges become impossible to achieve in isolation and players need to collaborate in order to succeed. Castronova believes that people are able to learn social skills much faster in virtual worlds then they can in real life – “social misfits need not apply”. This same virtue is seen in the design of ARGs, where the game is impossible to solve without cooperation. Towards the beginning of I Love Bees, an ARG designed to promote the release of the new Halo, random players were sent individual packages that were meaningless unless the information was pooled and shared. Cooperatives of gamers needed to be formed so that information could be exchanged. Players were no longer working against each other, but had been driven to work alongside each other to achieve a common goal. The seeking of knowledge ceased to be an object and became a collaborative project as the players were unified by a common purpose. By staging the game in both the real and virtual world, ARG designers are further dissolving the boundaries between these two spaces. This is illustrated in the common aphorism found in ARGs – “This is not a game”. The players stand “betwixt and between”, no longer perceiving boundaries between the two worlds. The ‘virtual’ has lost its meaning, it is the players interactions within these spaces that are real, therefore to them the worlds are real. These games have resulted in the unification of players working cooperatively to solve problems in both the virtual environment and the real world. Players now have confirmation that games can and do have an impact on their real life.
Collaboration between gamers form a collective intelligence. Players are attracted to each other due to homophily aspects of social networks, creating groups of gamers working cooperatively towards common goals. Jenkins sees collective intelligence as the “ability of virtual communities to leverage the combined expertise of their members. What we cannot know or do on our own, we may be able to do collectively”. Collective intelligence is not a hive mind, where everyone thinks the same, but a space where everyone has their area of speciality. There is no real leader, rather individuals move to the front as needed and then move back to make a place for others depending on the task at hand and the skills of the players – everyone has their time of importance. And, as Jenkins explains, “[w]hat holds collective intelligence together is not the possession of knowledge, which is relatively static, but the social process of acquiring knowledge, which is dynamic and participatory, continually testing and reaffirming the group’s social ties”. Groups are united by the common goal of dynamic discovery, where positive reinforcement is provided in an environment where all members of the group are equally important.
Our modern society has created an excess of free time, free time in which we have been at a loss to fill. Shirky sees this created time as a cognitive surplus. Since its creation, society have been using the time as consumers – mainly to consume television – but changes in the media world have now allowed us to become full participants. We are beginning to wake up from a consumer bender, keen to make use of the surplus of time and take a greater role in the distribution of information by discovering, producing and sharing knowledge. We are beginning to realise that “[m]edia that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for”. Von Ahn, a Professor in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University, is interested in how we can harness this surplus to solve some big issues. By using what we know about gaming, von Ahn has designed simple games to solve problems such as image tagging on the internet. By playing a virtual game, players are engaging their brain and arriving at an outcome which is helpful to humanity. Each small piece of input contributes to the outcome in an equation where the result equals much more than the sum of the parts. A very small amount of input from a very large number of players is resulting in complex problem solving success. We can make a difference.
To communities of players cooperating to reach a solution to an ARG, the game play is everywhere, crossing between both worlds. If clues found in the real world can produce solutions to problems in the virtual space of the game, can the crossover work the other way? ARG cooperatives think so! Their confidence in the ability of their cooperatives to solve real world problems can be seen in their attempt to help in tracking down the Washington D.C. sniper. To these players, the skills need to solve these real world issues are no different from the collective intelligence skills they honed and practiced in gameplay. Lack of play, Castronova states, has had an effect on previous world problems. He asks “[h]ow many horrors of history happened only because urges that ordinarily would have been exorcised through healthy play instead where diverted into mass politics and war?”. Recent interesting research between obesity and aggression has caught Jane McGonigal’s interest. McGonigal is fascinated by the idea that solving social issues such as obesity through gaming can possibly reduce aggression and therefore bring peace to the world.
The return to social gaming has opened a window to social network communities. In a world which is broken, gamers are looking to escape into virtual worlds where they feel they have more power and control over their environment. These virtual spaces provide frequent positive reinforcement leading to an upward spiral of positive emotions. The homogeneous nature of social networks, where like is attracted to like, results in large groups of motivated virtuoso players coming together, sharing a common goal. Rather than fleeing into virtual worlds, why can’t we make real life more like a game? By using game design strategies to motivate producers and sharers we can tackle the big issues and move towards a world where problems are solved by playing. We have the technology, time and skills to make a real difference to our world. Let’s get gaming! (Source: Online Conference)