Tom Fisher, Dean of the University of Minnesota College of Design introduced the half-day Disruptive Effects conference by stating that we are facing “wicked problems that engage multiple stakeholders and will require iterative solutions.” There was a time not long ago when words like these spoken at a design conference would have been considered a bit dramatic. After all, we’re just the ones who make it all look pretty, right? In fact, Fisher was setting up an afternoon of vigorous, inspiring discussions in which designers were being called on to contribute at the highest level of social discourse. Three speakers, including game design guru Jane McGonigal, IBM interaction designer Tom Erickson , and U of M researcher Nora Paul challenged the couple hundred attendees to step out of our comfort zone as we begin to envision this new role for designers.

Jane McGonigal made the most profound case for this by taking us through a simulated game that resulted in a growing list of more than 200 ideas for how a “World Without Oil” might function.

Here’s a clip of Jane McGonigal’s recent presentation at TED:

Below are my—somewhat cryptic—notes from Jane McGonigal’s. For more notes, links, and commentary, check out the very active Twitter hashtag: #disruptfx

Jane McGonigal, Ph.D.
Epic Win – How Games Can Help Us Solve the World’s Biggest Problems

  • We do not think creatively in a state of depression, so making ourselves happy is the way to an “Epic Win”
  • It’s not very helpful if the future you predict is not one that you want to live in.
  • We invest 3 billion hours/week playing online games.
  • Gaming environment offers models for solving complex social problems. Because it feels so much better to be successful in the gaming world, we spend more and more time there.
  • Gaming: constant positive feedback and encouragement to succeed…make it to the next level. We have to provoke our curiosity and wonder “what is the solution to this problem?”
  • Equivalent of 5.93 million years spent playing World Warcraft (solving problems)…as long as it has taken humans to evolve from apes
  • Games are helping us as a species evolve a new set of skills/abilities
  • 10,000 hours gaming by age 21—same as how much time spent in school 2nd-12th grade; also milestone for success in “effortful study.” >>Games designed to keep people in a stage of effortful study
  • Zeebo—low energy wireless network games—for developing world
  • Gaming skill: Collaborating on a massive scale
  • Gaming characteristic: Urgent optimism
  • Social Fabric—people like each other more after the game than they do before
  • Blissful Productivity—Farmville
  • Gamers, more than anybody else, cannot stand being unproductive
  • Epic meaning—desire to be attached to something bigger than ourselves
  • All adds up to Super-Empowered Hopeful Individuals
  • Jane wants to see game developer nominated for Nobel Peace Prize by 2020
  • Einstein: “Games are most elevated form of investigation”
  • Try to create opportunities in gaming that harness creativity
  • Question to Jane: what’s the definition of a game? Jane makes social network games…a game has an arbitrary goal defined by someone else. If you’re playing the game, you voluntarily agree to pursue the goal, rules make it more challenging, games include feedback systems (scoring).