I poked my nose into The Lost Ring on Thursday night, and man, did I get sucked in. The Lost Ring is a very large-scale ARG designed by Jane McGonigal, one of the designers behind I Love Bees. It’s tied in with the 2008 Olympics and they’re really making it a global event — the game characters all speak/blog/write different languages, the clues are all in Esperanto, and objects are scattered all over the world.
Anyway, as I finally pulled myself out of the rabbit hole this evening, it’s occurred to me that there’s an important similarity between ARGs and MMO’s that tends to make them powerful experiences for those involved, and that is that both types of games are a lot closer to real life than other types of games. I’m not talking about sensory things, like graphics and sound (ARGs are especially good at those!). I’m talking about higher-level gameplay mechanics like relationship building and teamwork. In the case of MMO’s, you also have things like economics and sometimes ecologies.
Compared to mechanics like maneuvering tactics or aiming in an FPS, these are a lot more interesting than. They involve more parts of ourselves — more of our brain, and more of our heart. And they’re usually more relevant to the rest of our lives, as well.
One of Raph Koster’s claims in A Theory of Fun (wow, $150 for a copy now? Time for a reprint, Raph) is that fact that much of the emotional feeling of “fun” is actually our brain’s reaction to learning something. I think it’s true, and I also think there’s potential for a deeper, more meaningful sort of fun when the things we are learning reach deeper into us and have greater relevance to our overall lives.