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This essay was delivered at the Opinion Jam (organized by Ste Curran of One Life Left) at the Develop Conference 2008 in Brighton, England. It was written to be 3 minutes long when read aloud.
The essay is after the fold. If you want the accompanying PowerPoint slides, click here.
Just three months ago, Grand Theft Auto 4 was released into the world. Within the first day, 3.6 MILLION PEOPLE had bought copies of the game. They brought the game home; they put the discs into their consoles; they turned on their consoles; and their consoles told them:
Follow the yellow line to Roman’s Warehouse.
and 3.6 MILLION PEOPLE, more or less simultaneously, followed the yellow line to Roman’s warehouse. Why? For no good reason! Because they were playing a video game.
Video games are the MOST WIDESPREAD AND EFFECTIVE FORM OF MIND CONTROL EVER INVENTED.
Seriously, games are amazing. We tell people “Do this!” and they actually do it! Go fetch the skulls of 37 Miniature Giant Space Hamsters and bring them to me for your reward of imaginary little experience points. You know the experience points are fake but you want them anyway. You want them bad. It’s crazy the stuff the players do just because we told them to, just because it’s in a game. Just to gain imaginary rewards and avoid imaginary penalties.
Entire segments of modern society would love to have the control we have. Several of my friends are schoolteachers. Once they were beautiful people but now they look haggard and spent — because they spend all day, every day, trying to manage a pack of wild kids who never do what they are told. But for us, it just works. The kids — or their parents — pay us in order for us to tell them exactly what to do. And then after following our orders for 8-to-40 hours they feel like they totally “beat the game”. Yeah, little Billy, you sure beat that game. You really showed it who’s boss.
Our power may be stronger yet. A variety of historical figures have explored the paranormal effects that may occur when you focus the intention of many people at once.
Aleister Crowley, Isaac Newton…
And more recently, in 1995, Grant Morrison was writing the comic book series The Invisibles. Early on, around issue 6, sales of the comic took a nosedive. The future looked grim, but to save the series from cancellation, Morrison organized a wankathon wherein his readers around the world masturbated simultaneously while focusing on a visual symbol, in order to increase sales. It worked! and the Invisibles completed its 59-issue run.
In the games industry, we have the equivalent of these wankathons several times a year, but the energy is never focused toward a long-term goal. It just dissipates, like seed spilt upon barren earth.
Bertrand Russell, in his 1925 essay “What I Believe”, while discussing society and its laws, said this:
Your act springs directly from desire for an end together with knowledge of means. This is equally true of all acts, whether good or bad. The ends differ… but there is no conceivable way of making people do things they do not wish to do. What is possible is to alter their desires by a system of rewards and penalties (among which social approval and disapproval are not the least potent). The question for the legislative moralist is therefore, “How shall this system of rewards and punishments be arranged so as to secure the maximum of what is desired by the legislative authority?