Spacewar: “A Flawless Crystal Ball”
// Posted by Phylicia on 01/23/2012 (10:08 PM)
In his 1972 article in Rolling Stone, Stewart Brand delves into Spacewar, the first digital computer game developed by Steve Russell. Ironically, for Brand, “gaming” did not yet exist (we need to flash forward about 8 years to see the world of gaming explode). So his report didn’t credit Spacewar as part of a natural progression of software or even hacking, and Brand definitely did not view it as genuine piece of the technology revolution puzzle, but it was still fun.
What Brand did acknowledge about Spacewar was (as quoted from Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums):
- It was intensely interactive in real time with the computer.
- It encouraged new programming by the user.
- It bonded human and machine through a responsive broadband interface of live graphics display.
- It served primarily as a communication device between humans.
- It was a game.
- It functioned best on, stand-alone equipment (and disrupted multiple-user equipment).
- It served human interest, not machine. (Spacewar is trivial to a computer.)
- It was delightful.
So Spacewar was a crystal ball… how?
Recently I stumbled upon this gem of a TED Talk:
Now I am probably the furthest thing from a gamer, so McGonial’s theory was eye opening, even if I didn’t really buy it.
My disclaimer before I get into Spacewar’s prophecy, if you will…
I apologize to any mother whose gamer also stumbles upon Jane McGonigal’s talk. Much to your and Marie Hemming’s (see comments on McGonigal’s Talk and you will quickly learn why) dismay this will only encourage his/her gaming.
Now onto the “how”… (based on McGonigal’s theory)
Spacewar was interactive:
- COLLABORATORS: at every level and mission, hundreds of thousands of people ready to work with you
- EPIC STORY: inspiring story of why we’re there, and what we’re doing
- POSITIVE FEEDBACK: leveling up, plus-one strength, and plus-one intelligence
Spacewar encouraged new programming:
McGonigal created three games that that are an attempt to give people the means to create epic wins in their own futures:
- World Without Oil: an online game in which you try to survive an oil shortage
- Superstruct at The Institute For The Future: the premise was a supercomputer has calculated that humans have only 23 years left on the planet.
- Evoke: if you complete the game you will be certified by the World Bank Institute, as a Social Innovator
Spacewar bonded human & machine through graphics:
Jane McGonigal explains the above gamer expression, photographed by Phil Toledano, as:
“a classic gaming emotion… if you’re not a gamer, you might miss some of the nuance in this photo. You probably see the sense of urgency, a little bit of fear, but intense concentration,deep, deep focus on tackling a really difficult problem… If you are a gamer, you will notice a few nuances here: the crinkle of the eyes up, and around the mouth is a sign of optimism, and the eyebrows up is surprise. This is a gamer who is on the verge of something called an epic win.”
McGonigal hopes to make it as easy to achieve an epic win in the real world as the virtual world.
Spacewar served as a communication device between humans:
Games like World of Warcraft make gamers virtuosos at: WEAVING A TIGHT SOCIAL FABRIC
“There’s a lot of interesting research that shows that we like people better after we play a game with them, even if they’ve beaten us badly. And the reason is, it takes a lot of trust to play a game with someone. We trust that they will spend their time with us, that they will play by the same rules, value the same goal, they’ll stay with the game until it’s over. And so, playing a game together actually builds up bonds and trust and cooperation. And we actually build stronger social relationships as a result.”
Spacewar was a game:
Games can save a civilization, as McGonigal explains through Herodotus’ story of Lydia during an 18 year famine which eventually lead to the Etruscans. Games allow us to ignore real-world suffering because they are engaging and immerse the player in satisfying blissful productivity. McGonigal believes if we game long enough, we can eventually solve real-world problems instead of virtual ones.
Spacewar served human interest:
McGonigal claims that if we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity, we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week, by the end of the next decade. We need to answer these questions:
What about games makes it impossible to feel that we can’t achieve everything? How can we take those feelings from games and apply them to real-world work?
Spacewar was delightful:
Games like World of Warcraft also make gamers virtuosos at: URGENT OPTIMISM
“Think of this as extreme self-motivation. Urgent optimism is the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success. Gamers always believe that an epic win is possible, and that it is always worth trying, and trying now”
So, the question then becomes: do you think gaming can save the world?