Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Challenging Minds and Hearts: "Dude It's Code, We Can Do Anything!"

It has been a while and there has been so much that I've been meaning to write about. All I must find time to get back to.
Foremost and giving me hope—the earth trembled at GDC in 2008, though the impact will take a while to be realized. The focal point was the Game Designer's rant with designers Clint Hocking, Jenova Chen, Jane McGonigal, Jon Mak, and Daniel James. All innovative creators in the medium.

Visually it was immortalized by designer Jon Mak and friends releasing balloons into the crowd with messages attached. Jane McGonigal summarized the call by stating "Compared to rest of the world we have it all figured out, we invented a medium that kicks every other media's ass...we occupy more brain cycles, make more people happy than any other medium in the world." Her plea to the industry to use the incredible brain power within "to fix our broken reality." I could not agree more.

But perhaps my favorite delivery was from Clint Hocking. Clint was one of the early advisors to the game program at Champlain. His ability to think critically and creatively defines new wisdom. He is known for immersive, innovative, intelligent, masculine based narrative gameplay such as his original title SplinterCell. The language of his rant reinforced a macho style (liberally peppered with profanities) as may be required by the audience. But the message was definitive...and issued a challenge to the audience. Clint began by quoting a programmer on his team who had stated “Dude it's code…we can do anything.” Clint went on to dare the community “Why can't Call of Duty be actually about duty? Why isn’t Code of Honor about honor? Can you imagine if we could box honor, put it in a box?....What if you actually packaged the experience of what it means to be honorable—95% of people haven't felt that. It would sure suck to have 10 million gamers running around being the most honorable people on earth..."

Clint cuts to the core of the dilemma of games as a medium both to entertain and to offer substantive solutions. It is a powerful medium to teach. What holds it back? Is it the era in which it is created or who is creating it? Is it the toolsets available or the mindset that uses the tools?

Afterwards I became engaged with a pivotal dialogue with my dear friend and one of the best game designers I know, Pat Fortier, about creating games—the games Clint describes. Piercing my hope, he said it was impossible. Game mechanics—the elements that make games the intriguing medium they are—do not allow it.

Since then I have been puzzling over this. What is clear is that some entertainment designers are examining how the medium can effect positive change in our world. (The photos above & below, a case in point, are from designer Jenova Chen's rant that mimicked the essence if not the tone of Hocking's message.) I believe that Pat has pinpointed part of the dilemma—what are the mechanics that can teach honor, duty and respect over violence and anger. What mechanics can build community (think World of Warcraft aka WOW)? What mechanics bring the power of critical thinking (inherent in games) to craft solutions to the immense problems facing this generation and our planet? I believe Clint's programmer is right "Dude it's code...we can do anything". Then as my engineer husband Jim states, "our problem is how do we define the problem?". In the answer lies the solution to the mechanics. We only need to set our minds and hearts to it.

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