Home How Game Mechanics Will Solve Global Warming

How Game Mechanics Will Solve Global Warming

The last 10 years have been called the era of Web 2.0, a term used to describe a new type of online experience, wherein a user could be both author and audience. That decade, said SCVNGR CEO Seth Priebatsch today in his opening keynote at the SXSW conference, was the decade of social. 

That decade, however, has been won, said Priebatsch. Facebook has come away as the clear leader and now, a new decade is upon us – the decade of games. These are not children’s games, however. These are games that could change the world.

Priebatsch, a highly energetic 22-year old who dropped out of Princeton after his freshman year to start location-based game SCVNGR, delivered a wide-reaching presentation explaining that this next decade, put simply, could deliver the tools necessary to save the world. And no, we’re not exaggerating. He laid out the points of his talk from the get go, with the last one, as he explained it, being how game mechanics would solve global warming.

“The last decade was the decade of social. The framework for the social layer is now built,” declared Priebatsch. “It’s called Facebook.”

Facebook, with its 600+ million social connections has won the competition in terms of mapping our social interactions, he said. To further cement its position as owning the social graph, he explained, Facebook released the Graph API, which allows developers to utilize its social graph and build upon it.

With that battle won (at least according to Priebatsch), the next battle is over gaming. But we’re not talking about simple video games and the like – we’re talking about a “game layer on top of the world.”

“The game layer is he next decade of human technological interaction,” he explained. “Unlike the social layer, which trafficked in connections, the game layer traffics in influence. The game layer seeks to act on individual motivation – where we go, how we do it and why we do it.”

So what does this all mean? Priebatsch says that the game layer could be 10 times as large as the social layer and that, used correctly, could help to solve the world’s problems.

“It’s kind of naïve of me to say that the game layer could solve any of these huge problems, they’re just too big,” he conceded. “But you don’t have to just focus on that. While the game layer cannot solve these massive problems, it can give us the tools to make the solutions possible. It can move something that’s impossible to something that’s just difficult.”

To prove his point, he then ended the session with a game – a massive game involving the entire several hundred member audience. As each person entered the room, they were given anywhere from one to three cards with different colors on each side. Each card had one of three colors on each side and were handed out randomly. To win the game, each row of the audience had to self organize to show only one color by trading with the audience members around them. That is, the entire room had to move from chaos to order, with each row only showing one color, within 180 seconds. If they did this, he said, SCVNGR would donate $10,000 to the National Wildlife Federation.

One minute after he started the clock, he stopped it. The audience had self-organized, despite a variety of problems, in just one minute.

What did this show? Priebatsch compared the various rules and problems faced by its players into ones the world population might face in solving global issues. There was a lack of communication, there were micro-trading issues, different allocations of resources from player to player, restricted movement decentralized leadership, and even different “countries,” as aisles served as “oceans” between the rows. The audience did, however, have two things to work with – a countdown and a common goal. Despite these various factors, and through the proper motivation, a large problem was solved quickly through applied game mechanics.

This is Priebatsch’s vision for how game mechanics will be applied to real-world situations over the coming decade to solve seemingly impossible problems. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what comes next from Priebatsch. SCVNGR, it would seem, is just the beginning.

The game layer is coming. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be powerful,” said Priebatsch. “I wish you all have a great time playing your way through the next decade.”

We have to wonder – what will this game look like? If a so-called Facebook Revolution can topple governments, what can applied game mechanics achieve?

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