Layers of gaming, and why we need them

Few days ago I bumped into a new video on TED.com, a speech by Seth Priebatsch The game layer on top of the world. I can’t embed the video here, so you need to go to their site to view it; and it’s worth doing, the speech is short, but very informative and insightful, and Seth is definitely a very charismatic speaker. As often happens in the time of the social web, the video also became a ‘social object‘, and has a great additional value by now because of the numerous comments of the viewers, expressing various pro-s and contra-s about gaming.

Having in mind this large volume of comments (over a hundred at the moment of writing this text, and growing), I was therefore somewhat surprised that I didn’t find the comments with ‘whys’. There are a lot of comments on whether the ‘game layer’ will appear or not, or whether it will be good for us or not. But no one asks why we need this gaming layer now, and why it should became even bigger in the future.

In his speech Seth himself simply postulates that the games will become more present in the future, and more actively used; a ‘see the trend and extrapolate ‘ kind of logic. (It’s important to note here that Seth does not mean games as a product, as we see them, for example, in a gaming industry, but rather as a modality, a way of doing other things as games; such an understanding is close to an approach often called ‘serious games‘). Seth obviously embraces this trend since he sees games (and specific gameplays) as the very powerful tools, able to impact human behavior. Such gameplays (he tells about four of them, although hints that he knows more) can be used to impact people’s motivations and activities, and support marketing and communication actions aimed at behavioral changes.

The concept of ‘gaming layer’ is close to the very core of what we do at Summ()n, and it seems very important for me to figure out the why-s before the how-s. I think that games can do much more that what is suggested by Seth; I also believe that it is these other capacities of games make then increasingly important, essential for our development and evolution.

Yes, games are very powerful change agents, but is It’s not enough to just efficiently move you from A to Z, using gameplay as an effective vehicle. We increasingly need to move beyond Z-s (even ‘beyond the beyond‘), into unknown, and more importantly, into ‘unknown unknown’ territories. Games, with their intrinsic mechanisms and qualities (such as role-playing, suspension of the ‘rules of reality’ and immersion into the realms of imaginary) can act as powerful medium in exploration of the unchartered territories, imaginable – and un-imaginable – possibilities. I argue that these are the tools we need now, and will increasingly need in the future, to be able to cope with the complex and turbulent developments of our civilization (see more on that in my earlier slideshow, Preparing for the turbulent futures).

And yes, games can be also used as ‘behavioral change agents’ too, but these changes need to lead to the transcendence of the existing social roles and practices, and to the formation of the new skills and even new identities (rather than as a mere ‘training tools’). That’s why we need the ‘game layers’, and that’s why they will proliferate.

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