What Online Games Can Teach Us about The Future | Jane McGonigal | RSAC 2018


I’ve actually invented a new genre of
simulation called
first-person futures not to be confused
with first-person shooters to take an
abstract idea like smart toilets and
have people make a visceral intuitive
first-person connection to what this
future might feel like we’re trying to
create feelings about the future
feelings that come from actually putting
yourself in a first-person way so some
of our first-person futures are actually
set in the real world with these
artifacts where we actually put you in
the future
not necessarily with your consent and
then we find out how you feel about it
there’s a reason why we do this besides
just wanting people to be better
connected their future selves research
shows that powering the medial
prefrontal cortex actually helps you be
better able to shape the future in the
way that you want it to turn out so not
to be a passive recipient of the future
but to get better at actually deciding
what the future should be one thing we
know from studies is that if you’ve had
a first-person experience of a future
that you will pay more attention to
those signals as the future unfolds so
whether you like it or not you all will
be paying more attention to smart toilet
since you took a moment to imagine
yourself in a future with surveillance
toilets from now on when you see a tweet
about it do you see an article about it
hear someone talking about it your
medial prefrontal cortex is gonna power
up and say wait this matters to me okay
so I’ve hacked your brain a little bit
to care more about this future you’re
more likely to engage with it not just
let it happened to you we also know that
when the medial prefrontal cortex fires
up when you think about a future it also
fires up another region of the brain
that is responsible for scanning the
environment for changes that may require
you to adopt a different strategy than
the one that’s been working for you
previously and this actually fixes one
of the major neurological obstacles to
thinking effectively about the future we
all have a neurological bias to assume
that the future will be like the present
that’s because our brain likes to
come up with strategies and habits and
routines that tend to work so we don’t
have to tax ourselves constantly trying
to answer the question what should I do
in this situations we like to create
these routines but the routines only
work if the environment stays the same
there is a part of the brain that looks
for indications that wait maybe the
routines won’t work so well anymore
this part of the brain fires up if
you’re doing a first-person future so
you’re actually less likely to miss the
important signals you’re more likely to
spot them earlier so you have more time
to adapt and again not get blindsided by
the future which helps explain this
recent study hot off the press just
published in January it’s the first
long-term study of future syncing at an
organizational level to see if companies
where they practice this kind of
first-person thinking about the future
scanning for signals creating artifacts
trying to immerse themselves from
multiple points of view into how this
feature might play out does it actually
help them survive the future and they
found by studying 81 for-profit
companies over seven years that at the
start of the study being highly engaged
in the specific kind of future thinking
predicted seven years later 33% greater
profitability and 200% increased growth
so at an organizational level there was
a big payoff as well so I’d like to just
do one more
first-person future with you look for
signals of one more strange future and
this is one of the futures I’ve been
researching at the Institute for the
future that has a lot of people reacting
very strongly and I thought I would
really love to leave you with the future
that I have seen some pretty extreme
reactions to and see how you respond so
the first signal of this future is a
headline you may have seen this year
young men are playing video games
instead of getting jobs and that’s
totally ok for now
this headline stems from a major report
from the National Bureau of Economic
Research which found that because video
games have gotten so good it has
actually motivated men to spend less
time in paid employment and spend more
time
playing video games and just last week
the International Monetary Fund released
its own report on the same topic saying
yep not only in the United States we’re
also seeing this in Europe too young men
are working less because they want to
spend more time playing video games let
me show you some of the numbers behind
these reports in the past year 22
percent of the United States men in
their 20s without a college degree did
not work a single day of paid employment
in the entire year so one out of five
men in u.s. who didn’t get a college
degree not working at all that’s up from
10 percent in 2004 young men without a
college degree who did work they were
working significantly few hours at least
a day less of full-time work per week
and what these researchers found is that
75 percent of this newly free time that
these young men have freed up by working
less is being spent playing video games
and this was their key insight that
these young men actually value the
benefits of gaming more than they value
the benefits of minimum wage income
which is to say that the social benefits
the improvements to their mood and their
energy and their enjoyment of the kind
of problem-solving and skill acquisition
they’re doing they just value that more
than a couple hundred bucks a week and
so the study suggests they are actually
making a rational economic choice that
it is in their rational economic
interest to work less and play more
games and this is the big surprise of
the study they found that the happiness
of these men who stopped working to play
video games went up their health
improved their physical health improved
not just their mental health they had
more social connectivity than the people
who were still working more and this was
kind of like a shocker for the people
doing the site who were sure that this
decision would actually ruin their lives
now more young men may be facing a
similar scenario in the future because
the demographics has been the most time
playing video games today young men
between 18 and 35 especially young men
without a college degree those are the
the most intense gamers right now those
are the same people being automated the
most quickly out of employment there’s a
lot of Congress
about just how many jobs be automated
and how employment figures will change
in the future most people I talk with
agree that young men in this age group
who do more of the difficult manual
labor the dangerous labor that they are
more likely to be automated than others
however as kevin kelly a futurist i
admire greatly has pointed out mass
automation may be a chance to discover
what humans are uniquely good for like
robots do what robots are good for and
let humans do what humans are good for
and if there’s one thing we know humans
have been good at since the dawn of
humanity it is playing games this is a
game from 1800 BC Egypt called game of
hounds and jackals anyone ever played
this game you know I will
please feel free to join me for a round
of this after them to talk and if humans
are getting automated out of jobs the
one kind of work we shouldn’t be worried
about them getting automated out of is
playing games because as we’ve seen
historically watching humans get beat by
AI is not a lot of fun and that
increasingly people are interested in
playing with and against other humans
right the rise of eSports is a great
signal of that so let me give you a very
strange future forecast that I want you
to let let it sit in your brain today
and take it with you and see what you
make of it what if by the year 2030 most
men ages 18 to 35 in the United States
in China without college degrees do not
have full-time jobs but that’s okay
because by 2030 most videogame companies
are actually paying players to play
their games welcome to the world of wage
play this is an idea put forth by Edward
castronovo the famed economist of
virtual currencies and video game
environments and this idea is pretty
simple that some number of video game
players in the future will receive
essentially a basic income that allows
them to pay for most of their essential
living supplies in the form of probably
crypto currencies now why would video
game companies play pay players to play
well in 2018 we know that free to play
games dominate the industry
and only 3 to 7% of players ever spend
any money on the most popular games half
of all their revenues are generated by
0.2% of their players so one in 500
players provide half of the revenue for
this industry these are called the
whales or the big fish players and that
means that the other 499 out of every
500 players or the little fish are there
not to provide revenue to the game
company but to provide meaning to the
play of the big fish right because what
does a big fish once it wants to be
surrounded by little fish and how do you
make the big fish feel important and
never want to leave you ensure that they
are surrounded by as many little fish as
possible we see in the game economy
today that big fish move on to new games
when players start to leave for new
games as well and that’s why video game
companies in the free-to-play market
spend half of their revenues on
advertising to acquire new players so
they have to keep the big fish
surrounded by little fish economically
would it possibly be more efficient to
simply pay the players to play your game
you’re already spending half of your
revenue advertising to them what if you
created a work opportunity instead now
at thanks you for the future we have
this painted on our front window if you
came to visit us in Palo Alto you would
see our motto any useful statement about
the future should at first seem
ridiculous and I grant you the idea that
most video game companies will pay
people to play them in the future
sounds ridiculous on the face of it but
I want you to spend just a few more
seconds first-person in this future so
you’re better able to look for signals
that this ridiculous future may be
coming to pass so take a moment and
think about your favorite game if you
have a favorite video game if you don’t
have a favorite video game right now
think about someone you love and what
they might be playing think of that game
and I want you to imagine it’s just a
couple years from now you’re still
playing this game and every day there’s
a lottery one in 20 players at the end
of the day get paid minimum wage for
whatever hours they put into the game
okay how do you feel just think about
that let that sit
okay the next time you pick up this game
to play keep this future with you and
ask yourself what if I were getting paid
minimum wage to play this game how would
that change my behaviors I want you to
keep this future with you and keep
looking for signals that make it sharper
and clearer and more vivid what you’re
engaged with when you think about the
future in this way is something very
special evolutionary biologists have
pointed out that humans are the only
creatures in the universe that have the
ability to think about the long-term
future it’s essentially a new invention
in evolution only our brains can do it I
encourage you to keep thinking about the
future in this first-person way come and
spend some time with us at the Institute
for the future in palo alto or online at
ifts org and I will look forward very
much to seeing you at RSA again in the
future perhaps a few years from now with
surveillance toilets thank you very much

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