At Cannes Lions earlier this year, gaming maven Jane McGonigal posited that “hacking your brain with games can make you happier in your everyday life.” Ramona Pringle’s story would certainly support that theory. After being dealt a series of life-changing blows, Pringle found herself newly single and living back in her childhood home, caring for her sick mother. And while she acknowledges that this is the point where individuals usually seek comfort from outlets such as religion, or even drugs, in Pringle’s case, it was online gaming.
“People get these ‘pilgrimage moments’,” says Pringle, “when something happens to them and they trek across Europe or India in search of some kind of wisdom.” Hemmed in as she was by circumstance, Pringle’s pilgrimage took the form of a World of Warcraft quest.
One of the first things Pringle learned in this strange new digital world was how to ask for help. “And it was one of those ‘aha!’ moments – the first avatar secret. We’re so often taught not to ask for help, that you can figure things out on your own, but the game really teaches you that there are no points for going it alone. You don’t level up faster by finishing quests yourself.”
Pringle’s experiences are the subject of Avatar Secrets, an upcoming interactive documentary for iPad which explores what it is exactly that the modern world gets out of digital interaction, whether it be collaborating on a fictitious quest, or simply sending an email that says “I love you.” Pringle’s conclusion? “We’re not addicted to technology, we’re addicted to each other… With this project, I’m really excited for people to look at their digital experiences in a new way and see that it’s not just about staring at their iPhone screen – it’s about connection, and empathy.”
Video games are also being utilised as a means to address and tell stories about issues in the wider world. At the 2013 Social Good Summit, rock band Linkin Park and game developers Kuuluu Interactive Entertainment were promoting Recharge, a dystopian game set in a world where all natural resources have been depleted.
The game aims to educate players on the importance of renewable, clean energy. Linkin Park have been involved in the sustainable energy movement since 2005, and it is their hope that they can leverage their 56 million strong online fanbase into an audience for this new endeavour. When it came to finding a medium for their message, Dave Farrell thought, “what better way than gaming?”
“We grew up playing video games,” he told audiences at the Social Good Summit, “and those games had all different types of messages… I say it all the time, the easiest thing that people can do – it doesn’t take money, it doesn’t take anything like that – is to be aware of what’s going on, find the information, and share it with your friends.”
Gamification has become a popular storytelling tool recently, especially in commercial contexts, but its social and personal potential remains largely untapped. To find out more about Ramona Pringle’s journey, visit AvatarSecrets.com, and to explore the not-too-distant future, visit Kuuluu.com.