Spring Break is tricky at our house, especially when it coincides with the South by Southwest Interactive conference, as it did this year. My son Matt wants to stay home and play with his friends, and I'm out of town, leaving my husband Greg to mind the home front.
SxSW Gaming Panels
Some of the most intriguing panels at SxSW this year for me had to do with gaming:
- Jane McGonigal reprised and updated her talk from 2 years ago; I was afraid I wouldn't get much out of it, but she has many more studies and facts to back up her ideas. Her book Gamestorming covers how to use the techniques and motivations from gaming to solve real-world problems. She shared data about how even violent games don't produce more violent behavior in the real world, something I worry about with my 13-year-old son. She explains well the dynamic of Eustress - good stress, the feeling of accomplishment, and our need for meaningful employment that good games tap into.
- I missed Nadya Direkova's live talk, Game On: Design Patterns For User Engagement, but enjoyed these visual notes from Springbox's Tom Hudson).
- Seth Priebatch, founder of SCVNGR, was the most thought-provoking presenter for me, a fresh take on how to design with the Social Layer and Gaming Layer in mind. He described the current School experience in the U.S. as a poorly designed game, where we're not motivating and engaging as well as we could, and put forth several great ideas for improving it, including changing the way grades and testing are used.
- Ge Wang, the chief creative officer of Smule, showed how they develop their amazing music apps for iPhone and iPad, particularly. Ocarina, the Magic Lighter, Magic Piano and Magic Fiddle use the devices in a very SOCIAL way. Music is supposed to be social.
Back on the HomeFront
And I came home from SxSW to this vignette: Matt and 3 of his friends playing video games collaboratively AND competitively. Helter Skelter by the Beatles, with a little "pomp and circumstance" thrown in. There's some footage of Matt's best buddy Philip playing my newly downloaded Smule's Magic Fiddle on the iPad. Philip got good at the app quickly, as he does play real violin.
Combining the Threads
These kids do well in school, and they're all in band or orchestra. And what do they choose to do in their off time? Games. They're able to navigate any hairy interface or difficult challenge as long as they believe there's a payoff around the corner.
The irony of "Pomp and Circumstance" wasn't lost on me. These kids WILL hear its strains, no doubt "on schedule" in their senior years. Those panelists at SxSW are right - we need to harness the dynamics that make gameplay so compelling, and get these kids and their peers as ENGAGED in life, citizenry and creativity as they are in these games.