From Project Persephone

PmWiki: Serious Game

Serious Game - "A serious game is a game designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment."1

"A distant end is not an end but a trap. The end we work for must be closer - the labourer's wage, the pleasure in the work done, the summer lightning of personal happiness." -- Alexander Herzen, in The Coast of Utopia

Project Persephone has some serious purposes. What could be more serious, after all, than trying to contribute to global political and environmental sustainability? Those are definitely program goals. As a project, however, it aims to contribute indirectly to those big, singular, long-term, serious (but also somewhat amorphous) goals in a ludotopian manner. That is, by recruiting a growing membership to pursue a variety of small, short-term, very specific goals that are pursued largely for the fun of it. In that respect, it's a lot like an MMORPG? overlaid on some real-world bits - specifically, the exovivaria (or their terrestrial and virtual prototypes, to start.)

Admittedly, to get stuff into space and make things happen there will entail doing some things that aren't fun, some things that some people will need to be paid to do - including tasks that some will need to be arduously trained to do. Serious Games will probably become important in that department. Even prototyping exovivaria on Earth - and maintaining the prototypes - will involve some burdensome chores. Serious Games that help train people to do those chores could be all to the good.

The fact remains, however: you'll need a lot of people having a lot of fun - and willing to pay some kind of price for the privilege - to make the Project work. Note that this is a constraint even on the most "unserious" games. Whoever copy-edited the help text for World of Warcraft, we can't doubt they were being paid. That game's server rooms are seldom entered except on some unpleasant hardware maintenance mission, a task that nobody would undertake for free. Without WoW user fees, none of this would be possible.

There is nevertheless a lot to be learned from Serious Games research. The whole idea of making serious study game-like is to motivate people to learn and grow. That's very much what Project Persephone aims to do. Probably the most useful Serious Game research will come out of its successes in formal education. Since people are already paying for formal education in one way or another (taxes or tuition), acceptance of a Serious Game in that milieu is some "price signal" that teachers, administrators, curriculum designers and students all feel they are getting their money's worth. As software engineering pundit Tom deMarco once noted, the user is always free to reject the software - indeed, user rejection is not even something you can control, once it starts. Whether a Serious Game gets rejected or not, there will always be something to be learned about designing the next one. Project Persephone will need to develop a process for studying rejection, since rejection will probably happen more often than acceptance.

To sum up: all Project Persephone research on exovivaria is first and foremost a game design activity, but not specifically of Serious Games. The primary immediate purpose of the games designed should, in fact, be create delight. The long-term purposes of the games are serious, but can only be considered a second-order source of player motivation. In that sense, the Project is a program of design and experimentation to see whether the second-order effects of something that's primarily just for relatively low-cost fun on Earth can ever be big enough to make something significant happen in space -- a very high-expense arena of endeavor.

The chances might be better than they might seem at first. As Edward Castronova pointed out some time ago 2, MMORPGs can host economies comparable in GNP per capita to some of the smaller, poorer countries - some of which have put small satellites into orbit. What if an MMORPG were focused on being a satellite in orbit, containing a (telebotically virtualized) social microcosm that maintains a real ecological microcosm? If seriousness isn't enough of a motivation for that, is there some way it could be made enjoyable enough to make up the difference? That is the task.


1 Serious Game (Wikipedia)

2 "Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier"

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Page last modified on July 31, 2017, at 10:26 PM