I watched an inspiring TED talk by game designer, Jane McGonigal a few months back. She’s quirky and has you believing by the end of her talk that you can easily level up, defeat that last boss and win the game that is life. With her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in performance studies & games research, any internet trolls that want to lash out about the inabilities of girl gamers better be prepared to be proven seriously wrong! McGonigal uses gaming as a means to solving real world problems : think Mother Teresa humanitarian goals with Lara Croft badassery. Together with the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California she works tirelessly on research that proves that gaming can help people form vital abilities needed in real world contexts, whilst grasping concepts that can help bring about positive change for humanity. Poverty, climate change, world hunger…these are just some of the issues that she believes gamers can help put an end to. And why not? The amount of time spent in fictitious worlds battling villains and demons is proof enough that gamers, like readers (as I’ll soon delve in to), are well equipped in finding the solutions necessary to saving the planet. Before we go any further, get yourself a cup of coffee and watch this…trust me, you need to!
Read more about Jane McGonigal on her website.
Inspired yet? Now that you have a better understanding of what I’m talking about, let’s move on to how this applies to fiction and why I’m writing about it on my literature blog. I came across this essay by Nadia Crandall entitled “Cyberfiction and the Gothic Novel” (2008). I’m exploring the Gothic in literature and how it leads to development in children when used in Children’s Literature. But I had never thought to look into the usefulness of cyberfiction or the steampunk genre. After reading the essay, I was reminded of Jane McGonigal’s talk and it got me thinking. Seriously thinking. Cyberfiction is predominately set in an alternative reality or dream-space where according to Crandall transgression and liberation can be found.The dream-space exists in opposition to conventional constructs of the real world and allows a divided consciousness which further enables readers to experience a world different from their own. Readers can inhabit two realities contemporaneously. Here they can find strengths and talents (unknown in the real world) for fighting monsters and achieving hero status.
This was similar to what I’d heard McGonigal talking about with the virtual world or landscape in gaming.
So how does this help human existence? Reading fiction and playing video games are able to lead people to emancipation of self. It makes perfect sense that a reader, or gamer, can be led to applying problem solving techniques (found in fictional literature and games) to personal as well as global issues. Going back to McGonigal, she has put into effect games like EVOKE, World Without Oil and Superstruct that have everyday, ordinary individuals such as you and me working together to make a difference. She cites the science of positive psychology as fundamental to her game design. This is what she has to say about positive psychology in gaming on her website : “The key question I always ask when making a game: How can this game lead to real and positive impacts? In other words, how can this game help players cultivate:
- the full range of positive emotions and engagement,
- stronger social connections and relationships,
- more resilience in the face of challenges and obstacles,
- more ambitious and surprising accomplishments
- and service to something bigger than ourselves? “
As far as I’m concerned, the same can be applied to reading fiction. Of course you’d have to look at the type of fiction and the ways in which it makes use of the above listed. Or the ways in which it leads to the above by challenging the mind. And as we forage through the landscape of dream-space or dream-scapes , we can hopefully bring back with us knowledge and experiences which fit into the jigsaw of world problems. The introverts, the geeks, the anti-social weirdos that live behind books and controllers…time to start making that difference.
Featured artwork (above) by Eiich Matsuba.