Jane McGonigal has become a rockstar of the TED crowd, but she has gone off the rails with her notion that ‘life is too easy’ as a rationale for the rise of online gaming. Steven Poole contrasts her love of World Of Warcraft with the more quotidian lives of two characters in Cart Life, who have to struggle to make ends meet:
Devastating humanism - Steven Poole via Edge Magazine
In her egotistical manifesto for ‘gamification’, Reality Is Broken, Jane McGonigal makes an extraordinary claim. “Reality,” she writes, “is too easy”. That’s why we need to fill it with the ‘voluntary obstacles’ of games, to make things more interesting. Nothing could be a more fatuously perfect example of blinkered privilege, the digital utopianism of the materially comfortable. Reality might be ‘too easy’ for McGonigal; it is anything but for Melanie, Cart Life’s coffee-hut heroine, or the other freely playable character, Andrus, who runs a newspaper stall. They have to make a living a dollar at a time, while figuring out how to feed themselves, look after a cat or child, brave the Kafkaesque ambiance of City Hall, and at the end of each day dream troubling dreams of their new life in the unforgiving city.
Another property that reality has, according to McGonigal’s zany metaphysics, is that it is ‘unproductive’. Only a game, like World Of Warcraft, offers the kind of ‘blissful productivity’ that she defines as “the sense of being deeply immersed in work that produces immediate and obvious results”. Well, Melanie and Andrus in Cart Life are engaged in work that demands an immersed concentration and produces immediate results: they make a dollar or two whenever they sell a newspaper, or a cup of coffee or milk, or maybe even a hot dog, but their lives are still somehow not as blissful as promised by McGonigal’s Panglossian advert for the virtualised late-capitalist work ethic.
One of the glibly tossed-off future possibilities of gamification presented by McGonigal is that large-scale crowdsourcing games could help ‘end poverty’. You know that a new fad herbal supplement or therapy technique is bullshit when it promises to cure absolutely everything, from shyness to baldness to cancer; in the same way, McGonigal’s prophecy that gamification will wash away all the world’s ills makes it obvious that it is cultural quackery. I don’t think Hofmeier’s Cart Life will end poverty either, but in its superbly intelligent way of making you walk a mile in the shoes of the poor, it has a far better chance at least of increasing empathy with the downtrodden. That is more than a library full of gamification moonshine will ever accomplish.
McGonigal’s dismissive attitude about the deep structure of poverty reminds me of the ‘Homeless hotspots’ stunt of SxSW, where homeless people were paid to act as 4G mifi hotspots.
Tim Carmody wrote it ‘sounds like something out of a darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia’. On one hand, it’s good that the out of work can make a buck, but it’s a stunt — at a profound level — intended to attract attention, and to exploit both the homeless involved and the SxSW attendees.
All of this demonstrates a growing split between the technological elite and average people, struggling to stay afloat or slipping under the waves.