Imagine if Transition initiatives had the kind of energy put into them that online games do. We'd accelerate transition awesomely.
The numbers for involvement, and that's passionate eye-popping engagement, not checking a box on a screen, are astonishing to me (a non-gamer until very recently). Take just one of the more popular role playing games, World of Warcraft. It has 11.5 paid subscribers who play about 210 million hours / week. Since the game was initiated in 2004 people have played about 50 billion hours with sweat pouring off them from positive stress, trying to – succeeding at – improving the skill and powers of their online avatar (their representative in the online world).
Fifty billion hours? Even the fact that WoW knows exactly, exactly, how many hours have been spent is telling. How many hours have been spent on Ttransition initiatives? There's no way of knowing at all, but I'm sure, and I'm sure you'll agree it's way way less than 50 billion. And if all online games were counted the number would doubtless be somewhere over a trillion (of course this is over more years than transition).
World of Warcraft and many other role playing games are in the business of saving the world in one form another, an epic adventure, just as, in its modest way, Transition is. I've been reading about games lately in a wonderful book by Jane McGonigal called Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. She's a young game developer who wrote her Ph. D thesis on games. You can watch her TED talk or check out her website.
In the book she says that a game has four essential characteristics. It's a natural to wonder if they can't be used to make Transition have more of the appeal of a game. I think they can, but it's not as simple as flipping a switch. There's something powerful in the ways that games can be used to influence reality, and many game developers are acutely aware of this. For example, development labs look like psychology labs with testing on just what positive emotions can be most directly elicited.
The four characteristics or a game are: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation. Let's look at them in turn with a few thoughts as to how Transition might start to share some of the game star status.
A game goal is irrefutably concrete and directly visible. Get that ball over that line, put the puck in the net, get the sword from the stone of Alcazar and bring it to Carlingwood in time for Christmas. You get the idea. It's done or not done. And when it's done you get a reward of some kind, a point up on the board, a badge / new power for your avatar. Transition's goals are less clear. They often require us to step forward and make the goal itself, with no clear acknowledgement when that's done.
There's nothing that means that Transition's goals have to be invented by each initiative. The goals themselves could be a collaborative project that Transitioners everywhere work toward.
A game needs to show you how you're doing, and the sooner the better. In hockey, having the puck and being close to the other team's net show you where you are. Online games excel at this. They might have instant points for killing something, a complex grading system for your avatar based on what you've accomplished (including your ability to cooperate with others in joint “raids” or whatever); in online games the avatar looks different as you “level up”, and full and complete stats are instantly available to all on what you've done.
Transition has a weak feedback system, based on background noticing on who's doing what. There could be, for example, a series of steps within each project and a monthly recognition of the project that accomplished more of their steps. Or perhaps an annual goal for each project with progress visually there on each site.
If this evolved across the Transition network so much the better. “Epic” scales rule.
In games, the essence is that anyone can pick up the ball and go all the way. You can't mess with the rules of Scrabble: either it's a word or it isn't; a letter has the value it has and that's it. The rules rule.
In human organizations, human group psychology rules which means that unconscious power dynamics rule. In other words we start off following rules we don't know we're following, rules we mistake for reality.
For most of us that means power in an organization - or a world - comes from the top down. In Transition, the rules for initiating and taking responsibility for projects need to be made explicit and clear, important given human's exquisite sensitivity to “who's in charge here” thinking and our unwillingness to break social mores.
It's precisely because so few know how to break with the prevailing thought process that we humans pretend there's no need for Transition, despite an avalanche of information to the contrary. Our psychology rules. It's a human reality that we need express permission / invitation to take leadership and ownership of a process, including the Transition process. The default is that we defer and only unusually brave souls or accidental insiders, the friends of leaders, take ownership for parts of the Transition process.
The high rates of game participation flip the thinking that there's not enough involvement. The question is, do we respect how human's think and feel, and work with their psychology, inspiring them to play this game? People are willing tot play. The question is more, are we willing to invite them into a game and show them how to play?