Public Media Games: Playing With Our Mission
Public media takes itself pretty seriously. But what if the best way to deliver on our mission wasn't through seriousness, but through play?
Sages through the centuries have pointed to the transformative power of play. To wit:
"Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play."
"Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold."
- Joseph Chilton Pearce
In some ways, public media has been encouraging game play for years, as a visit to PBSKids.org anytime in the last decade could quickly demonstrate (it was Mr. Rogers himself who said that "play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.") And our gaming efforts haven't been limited to wee ones. As an editor for PBS.org in 2000, I remember working with P.O.V. to create an interactive role-playing activity that put you in the shoes of an INS officer, determining whether to grant someone political asylum. The technology was rudimentary, but the idea was timeless: leveraging interactive media to help people understand a social issue in a new way.
In the years since then, public media has created all kinds of interactive and educational games for learners of all ages, using increasingly sophisticated technology. The examples are too numerous to name, and we should be proud of our accomplishments in this arena. Some recent forays I'm aware of include WNYC's Candidate Shuffle and the upcoming role-player game Flight to Freedom from WNYC. In addition, I hear that Austin, Texas-based Richochet Labs -- creators of QRank, the daily branded quiz game lauded by everyone from Mashable.com to The New Yorker -- is working with a couple public media stations to develop innovative games that tie into on-air programming. More details to come in a future post.
But here's the rub: In addition to helping us understand the world, games can help us shape it, and this may be the untapped frontier of public media gaming. In her TED Talk, Gaming Can Make a Better World, game designer Jane McGonigal opines,
"...When we're in game worlds I believe that many of us become the best versions of ourselves, the most likely to help at a moment's notice, the most likely to stick with a problem as long as it takes, to get up after failure and try again."
McGonigal designed World Without Oil, a game from ITVS a few years back, in which players were invited to "play it before you live it" -- "it" being a world where we literally ran out of oil . In her review of the game, Stefanie Olsen of CNET News wrote, "If you want to change the future, play with it first." Another reviewer noted that the game "taps our collective ingenuity to stop a plausible crisis before it happens – or at least prepare a post-Katrina nation to deal better with a disaster." In other words, the power of the game is that it uses play to unleash real-world problem-solving.
And therein lies the challenge I'd issue to the public media community: How can we play a leadership role in creating games that help individuals strengthen their communities? How can we unleash the power of play to make the world a better place? Join the discussion.
For inspiration on this subject, check out Games for Change, and mark your calendars for their annual conference, coming in June. I also recommend checking out Jane McGonigal's TED talk and website.