Dancing for Dinner

I had a crisis of faith recently that, as a game maker, I was learning Advanced Knowledge of Human Motivation to use in sneaky ways just to make money. Then Megan asked some really trenchant questions about the reality of Internet Marketing, the ethics of how it pays the bills, how people who consider themselves doing Actual Social Good want to be seen as different, and how much smoke we’re all collectively and individually blowing up our own asses.

“Yes!” I said! “I’m not alone!”

As so often happens, a book I’m reading, Reality is Broken has intriguing and functional answers. Back to that shortly.

We live in a world where we have to pay to eat and have shelter. We can reduce, trade, gift, dumpster-dive, etc., but we haven’t reached the Star Trek ideal of the moneyless world quite yet. And while I have a *lot* of issues with “capitalism” as it’s currently practiced, I *do* think it’s ok to ask that people contribute to get fed. As someone into Permaculture, I know that growing food takes work.

Since I need money to eat, I’m taking Big Risks transitioning from a corporate drone to an Indie game developer. I’m constantly asking the question “”How far am I willing to go in using manipulation techniques to make my games as addictive as possible?” To compete in a market with literally millions of other apps, it *seems* like the answer almost *has* to be,”way further than I’m comfortable with.” And what guarantee do I have that even my very best effort will keep me fed? As I learn more about the crapshoot nature of the industry, the answer I’ve been forced to accept, is “none.” As much as I *hate* the idea of having a Plan B, I’m simply not willing to put my financial life at risk beyond a certain point to achieve my dreams. That means, along with working on my own games, it’s time for me to deliberately cultivate other income streams. I’m tired of being broke and having fear about money make it hard to focus on my Making Games to Change the World.

I can choose to look at this as “I’m being forced by the Man to make money.” Instead, though, I can say “I’d rather find a way to do what I love where at least part of it makes reliable money, so that I have the freedom to compromise *less* on the rest of it.” And that’s an important General Point on “freedom.” Lots of people like to yak about how important freedom is, and I agree, it’s *really* important. But since the first freedom is to starve and die, I think it’s time to trade some liberty for security.

So back to Reality is Broken and the question “how do I make money ethically?” A Big Answer, it seems, is “if what you’re doing actually helps a lot of other people, you will want for nothing.” Instead of taking people away from reality, games can and do enhance it. Instead of isolating people, they often bring them together. Instead of disconnecting people from reality, games often not only help us feel less alone while we’re playing them, but actually *improve* an introverts ability and motivation to interact with real people. And instead of distracting us from what’s important, by making things we already want to do more like a game, we make them easier and more fun to do. And, perhaps most importantly, instead of simply zapping aliens, we can concentrate the single largest voluntary workforce in human history on whatever problem we turn into a game. Think that’s a small group of nerdy guys with glasses?

Think again.

Don’t buy it? I didn’t, either. You’ll have to read the book. 🙂

And in all cases, the cards are all on the table. No one is hiding the fact that quirks of human nature are being used to change the equation, because they’re being used by people for their own benefit. And a *major* personal goal of mine is to educate my players about how it all works along the way.

Succeeding by leaving game addicts and socially disconnected people in my wake seems unlikely to earn me a Nobel Laureate Ceremony, depriving me of an important opportunity to appear in public naked. However, if that same knowledge is used honestly and transparently, to *help* people achieve what they want, to create Social Good and More Happiness, that’s *fucking* *awesome*. Not to mention completely ethical and profitable. These quirks of human nature are part of us. We can’t suddenly decide to not be scared of bears or juggle more than eight or ten things mentally at once or stop loving someone just because it’s inconvenient. What we can do, though, is understand those same quirks and *mindfully* and transparently use them to our own advantage. Then *everybody* wins, and not just individually, but collectively.

The only thing between us and solving huge problems is a little gaming.

Got a quarter?

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2 Responses to Dancing for Dinner

  1. Gail says:

    sorry, got distracted by the naked… 😉 I love gaming, even though I know how it is manipulating me. There, I said it. Because it is manipulating me to make it more pleasant for me to escape and have fun, and I’m ok with that…much more than I am ok with being manipulated to make me feel unhappy until I buy X product, then unhappy again momentarily so I will then want to buy Y product. Gaming works with me to make me feel good, advertisements first make me unhappy, then manipulate me into their way of making me happy. I’m really tired, so I forgot what my point was….um…imma go back to the idea of you showing up naked for an award ceremony now.

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