Archive for the ‘big ideas’ Category

Practical advice for gamers

In big ideas on January 8, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Reality is Broken explains the science behind why games are good for us – why they make us happier, more creative, more resilient, and better able to lead others in world-changing efforts.

But some games are better for us than others, and there is too much of a good thing. Here are a few secrets that aren’t in the book to help you (or the gamer in your life) get the most positive impact from playing games.

This practical advice — 5 key quidelines, plus 2 quick rules — is scientifically backed, and it can be summed up in a single sentence:

Play games you enjoy no more than 21 hours a week; face-to-face with friends and family as often as you can; and in co-operative or creator modes whenever possible.

1. Don’t play more than 21 hours a week.

Studies show that games benefit us mentally and emotionally when we play up to 3 hours a day, or 21 hours a week. (In extremely stressful circumstances – such as serving in the military during war-time – research shows that gamers can benefit from as many as 28 hours a week.) But for virtually everyone else, whenever you play more than 21 hours a week, the benefits of gaming start to decline sharply.

By the time you’re spending 40 hours or more a week playing games, the psychological benefits of playing games have disappeared entirely – and are replaced with negative impacts on your physical health, relationships, and real-life goals. So always strive to keep your gaming in the sweet spot: 7 – 21 hours a week.

2. Playing with real-life friends and family is better than playing alone all the time, or with strangers.

Gaming strengthens your social bonds and builds trust, two key factors in any positive relationship. And the more positive relationships you have in real life, the happier, healthier and more successful you are.

You can get mental and emotional benefits from single-player games, or by playing with strangers online – but to really unlock the power of games, it’s important to play them with people you really know and like as often as possible.

A handy rule-of-thumb: try to make half of your gaming social. If you play 10 hours a week, try to play face-to-face with real-life friends or family for at least 5 of those hours.

(And if you’re not a gamer yourself — but you have a family member who plays games all the time, it would do you both good to play together – even if you think you don’t like games!)

3. Playing face-to-face with friends and family beats playing with them online.

If you’re in the same physical space, you’ll supercharge both the positive emotional impacts and the social bonding.

Many of the benefits of games are derived from the way they make us feel – and all positive emotions are heightened by face-to-face interaction.

Plus, research shows that social ties are strengthened much more when we play games in the same room than when we play games together online.

Multi-player games are great for this. But single-player works too! You can get all the same benefits by taking turns at a single-player game, helping and cheering each other on.

4. Cooperative gameplay, overall, has more benefits than competitive gameplay.

Studies show that cooperative gameplay lifts our mood longer, and strengthens our friendships more, than competing against each other.

Cooperative gameplay also makes us more likely to help someone in real life, and better collaborators at work – boosting our real-world likeability and chances for success.

Competition has its place, too, of course – we learn to trust others and often motivate ourselves to achieve more when we compete. Not to mention, of course, that all games are fundamentally cooperative, even if we’re trying to beat someone — we’re cooperating to play by the same rules and to play the game all the way through without quitting.

But if we spend all our time competing with others, we miss out on the special benefits of co-op play. So when you’re gaming with others, be sure to check to see if there are co-op missions or a co-op mode available. An hour of co-op a week goes a long way. (Find great co-op games for every platform, and a family-friendly list too, at Co-Optimus, the best online resource for co-op gaming.)

5. Creative games have special positive impacts.

Many games encourage or even require players to design and create as part of the gameplay process – for example: Spore, Little Big Planet, and Minecraft; the Halo level designer and the Guitar Hero song creator.

These games have been shown to build up players’ sense of creative agency – and they make us more likely to create something outside of the game. If you want to really build up your own creative powers, creative games are a great place to start.

Of course, you can always take the next creative step – and start making your own games. If you’ve never made a game, it’s easier than you think — and there are some great books to help you get started.

2 other important rules:

* You can get all of the benefits of a good game without realistic violence – you (or your kids) don’t have to play games with guns or gore.

If you feel strongly about violence, look to games in other genres – there’s no shortage of amazing sports, music, racing, puzzle, role-playing, casual, strategy and adventure games. (I personally only kill zombies, monsters and aliens in games — or do battle with imaginary weapons, not guns. I just don’t like the way realistic violence makes me feel.)

*Any game that makes you feel bad is no longer a good game for you to play.

This should be obvious, but sometimes we get so caught up in our games that we forget they’re supposed to be fun. If you find yourself feeling really upset when you lose a game, or if you’re fighting with friends or strangers when you play – you’re too invested. Switch to a different game for a while, a game that has “lower stakes” for you personally.

Or, especially if you play with strangers online, you might find yourself surrounded by other players who say things that make you uncomfortable – or who just generally act like jerks. Their behavior will actually make it harder for you to get the positive benefits of games – so don’t waste your time playing with a community that gets you down.

Meanwhile, if you start to wonder if you’re spending too much time on a particular game – maybe you’re starting to feel just a tiny bit addicted — keep track of your gaming hours for one week. Make sure they add up to less than 21 hours! And you may want to limit yourself to even fewer for a little while if you’re feeling too much “gamer regret”.

Want to learn the science behind these guidelines? Read Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (Penguin Press, 2011).

Courses in game design, performance, play

In big ideas on December 24, 2010 at 7:36 am

I’m not currently teaching — but I hope to teach my favorite four classes again someday. In the meantime, you can check out the syllabi for these classes, which I’ve taught previously at the University of California, Berkeley (“Performance and Play“, and “Theater and Games“) and San Francisco Art Institute (“Game Design as Art Practice“, and “Game Design for Real Life and Everyday Spaces“).

PERFORMANCE AND PLAY (undergraduate course at UC Berkeley, Spring 2004)

Members of this class will improve their research and analytic writing skills as we investigate the connections between contemporary performance and play. Early in the semester, you will select a research question of personal interest and spend the rest of the course exploring, revising, and refining this question. This individual research will culminate in a final 10-page paper and a “creative intervention” (performance, game or some combination) of your own design.

Questions we’ll explore together include:

  • How do actors, directors and audiences play in theatrical performances?

  • How do we perform as players and spectators in games, sports and everyday life?
  • What kinds of performances and play blur the line between theater and games?
  • What are the best research tools and methods for investigating, documenting and analyzing live events like play and performance?
  • How can we use game development and theatrical design to make a persuasive argument?
  • Who else is trying to answer these questions, and how can we start conversations with them?

Our collective investigations will consist of research-oriented:

  • class readings, assigned by me (theories of play and drama, fundamentals of game
  • design, recent writing in game and performance studies);
  • individual readings, chosen by you (theater history and criticism, actor and director
  • training guides, game reviews, interviews, play scripts, design documentation, fan essays, and whatever else you dig up in the course of your research!);
  • playing (in the classroom, in theaters, at home, on the field, onstage, online, in the streets);
  • brainstorming (informal weekly discussions on our blog);
  • writing (weekly formal and informal assignments in preparation for a final 10-page research paper on the play and performance topic of your choice); and
  • design (a 3-page creative document with detailed instructions for an original game or
  • performance related to your research topic).

THEATER AND GAMES (undergraduate course at UC Berkeley, Fall 2003)

Members of this class will improve their writing skills as we explore the connection between plays (theater) and play (games).

Questions we’ll explore include:

  • What is a game, and how do we know when we are playing?
  • What kinds of live performance are particularly game-like?
  • Why do games appear so frequently in modern drama as a central metaphor?
  • Is “playing” a part on stage really playful?
  • Do audiences and spectators get to play, too?
  • How do contemporary game designers draw on theatrical models?
  • How do we play (roles and games) in everyday life?

Our collective investigations will consist of:

  • reading (dramatic literature, theater history, theories of play, and game criticism);
  • playing (acting exercises, playground games, party games, computer games, life);
  • brainstorming (informal weekly discussion on our course blog); and
  • writing (3 formal writing assignments with peer review, a midterm writing workshop, and a final exam paper.

GAME DESIGN AS ART PRACTICE (BFA/MA studio class at San Francisco Art Institute, Fall 2004)

Game design allows artists to create meaningful play and interactive experience in any medium.  This introductory course, which explores both digital and non-digital games, aims to provide students with a critical vocabulary and historical context for analyzing games as art, as well as the skills and techniques necessary to incorporate game design into their ongoing art practice.

Through a combination of theoretical readings, case studies, critical analysis and design exercises, students will explore the expressive potential of games.  They will learn how to identify, create and manipulate core game elements such as player objectives, rule systems, feedback structures, win-loss scenarios, competitive and cooperative dynamics, and social interaction.

As a final project, students will work toward the design, development and deployment of a game in any medium of their choice.

Note: While digitally-based projects are welcome, students may also choose to work entirely with non-digital media.  No programming or computer design experience is necessary to enroll in this course.


(BFA/MFA seminar at San Francisco Art Institute, Spring 2007)


Where can we play new games — and how might they change our real lives?

Experimental game design is the field of interactive arts that seeks to discover new platforms and contexts for digital play. This course examines the contemporary intersection of ubiquitous computing and experimental game design. The convergence of these two fields at the turn of the twenty-first century has produced a significant body of games and performances that challenge and expand our notions of where, when, and with whom we can play. This course explores how and to what ends such projects reconfigure the technical, formal and social limits of play and performance in relation to everyday life.

Throughout the semester, we will design and test a series of playful interventions and performances that seek to turn everyday life and public spaces into a “real” little game. A primary goal of students in this course will be to develop a critical gaming literacy that can be applied to ordinary, everyday life. Together, we will work to read the “real” world as rich with playful opportunities, carefully testing everyday media, objects, sites, and social situations for the positive and negative consequences of inscribing each within the magic circle of a game. Readings will concentrate on classic design manifestos from the fields of ubiquitous computing and game design, as well as theoretical essays on collective intelligence, public space, and the performance of everyday life.