Jane McGonigal and the I Love Bees Collective Intelligence


Jane McGonigal has a genius for her craft. Save the fact that this author has the same name of the transfiguration-blessed witch from the Harry Potter Series, McGonigal has quite meticulously transformed the understanding of a very science-based, data-driven computer game into layman’s terms. Her article sheds light onto the findings of a multiple user-faced online gaming community (I Love Bees), built with malleable rules and guidelines that adapt and change based on its interactive users’ collective performance. What is the point of such a game? “Search and analysis games are poised to become our best tool for helping as many and diverse a population as possible develop an interest and gain direct experience participating in our ever-more collective network culture.” The manner in which McGonigal describes the outcome of the gaming experiment is nothing short of prodigal. She, herself, sounds almost as if the I Love Bees game was created by the same mind responsible for the human condition. “By requiring the players to discover by themselves the existence, secret purpose, and patterns of the game, we also took the first step towards gaining the players constructive participation in the project.” The game designers allot information incrementally, and what the players remain blind to is the fact that their interpretation of the variety of ambiguities present has direct correlation to how the game will play out. McGonigal could easily write a follow-up to this article (one of a similar length to this 27-page read) that details the results of this game as it pertains to new-age “I am” beliefs about manifesting our own realities with our thoughts, as this is exactly what’s done in I Love Bees.

“Instead of telling a story, we would present the evidence of that story, and let the players tell it to themselves.” The designers produce a stimulus, and the players have the choice, privilege, and free will (sounding biblical enough yet?) to interpret it to their best understanding. “To formulate a thoughtful response, the players first needed to understand the fictional world in which the game was being played.” Is this not the same action taken by human beings to create a moderately civilized society? Born human, do we not spend decades of our life learning what Alan Watts describes to be “The Human Game,” while simultaneously co-creating our realities and participating in the realities of others with whom we share space? “The players only had a call to action…a few seemingly random threads of story- and the freedom to respond to them however they wanted.” Make note that McGonigal’s article makes no mention of the relationship of the gaming results to actual human life; this is a musing entirely my own.

What McGonigal does connect for her readers is the comparison of users to bees in a hive, moving together towards a Collective Intelligence, which she abbreviates to “CI”. One of the main points she effectively stresses throughout her piece is the importance of varied, diverse, and evolving interaction of all users, and not homogenous, group-think mentalities. “Because of this massive distribution of content, responsibility rested on each and every player to come forward with any and all discoveries so that the entire collective could access and process as complete a data set as possible.” She inadvertently comments on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs (perhaps another surprise reference not brought into McGonigal’s article directly); humans needs to feel as though they have contributing importance in their respective communities. “Ultimately, participation in the search for the solution was what mattered the most.” McGonigal also incorporates the effect of unique and individual contributions on the success of the whole kit-and-caboodle CI. “By asking players to cooperate to make meaning out of an ambiguous system, the game-based hive mind celebrates the individual perspective even as it embraces the larger, intricate intelligence that emerges only at the scale digital networks afford.” She references the psychological function of the ambiguous system as it serves the creative aspects of individuals and “to draw players into the collective.”

Another third party observation of McGonigal’s piece is that such a system would attract individualistic players in its own right and by its design; those that seek to conform to the thoughts of one, strong leader would not have much to offer in the setting of this game’s digital atmosphere, one that thrives on diversity (not unlike biodiversity provided by bees to the final product of honey!). The creation of a world-wide interconnected group of users as a result of the game’s missions is not that different from humans’ evolution over the last 100 years as they entered into the Anthropocene Era. “By creating such a robust communications infrastructure and coordinating extensive mobile computing supplies, they had performed at a greater capacity than we expected.” I’ve often found life to feel like a video-game, wherein we stay on the same level of play until our skill set and communications capacities advance to the point where we can, collectively or individually, “graduate” to the next level. With each level-increase, the game becomes more challenging, but the adaptations learned and mastered from previous levels supports our success when future obstacles arise. The more we succeed, the more challenges we will see. “We started adding…more complicated, live activities- precisely because the players showed us that they were capable of succeeding at more challenging kinds of interaction.” McGonigal concludes her argument reiterating the effective potential of CI games on the developing minds of our time, and how such games can be developed to encourage the individual to desire a contribution to the collective.

written by Shawna Marie Rodgers

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