On happiness, “better” and the ludic
A point of clarification I want to make, in response to Jane McGonigal’s and Raph Koster’s presentations at ETech, Joe McCarthy’s take on the daylight between Jane’s position and mine, and even, obliquely, a question Cory Doctorow asked during my own session (essentially, “is enchantment a more acceptable interface metaphor if you’re trying to construct a ludic experience?”):
When I told Cory that I was “not a fun guy,” I was playing to character, and having a little fun at my own expense. (The laughter from that wonderful amen corner should have been your clue that I was speaking in something other than entirely earnest.) I don’t literally have anything against fun, enjoyment and playfulness – if anything, the source of my resistance is probably that I hold them in higher esteem than most of those who claim to be speaking and acting in their name. Here’s why:
I believe that there’s already abundant material and ground for happiness, enjoyment and fun to be found out there in the world as it is. I don’t want “suggestions” toward same forcefed to me programmatically, at the level of system architecture or design.
I do not believe that products and services should aim at making my life “better,” because with very few exceptions, I just don’t trust designers (manufacturers, providers, marketers…) to understand what “better” means to me. My vision of the good life sure doesn’t resemble that being offered me by Verizon or Ford or Blizzard – or Prada, or even, gasp, Apple – and I’m willing to bet that yours doesn’t much look any of those either, when all is said and done.
I especially am not interested in products and services that aim to stimulate “playful” or (ugh) childlike states. I’m perfectly capable of finding those for myself, thanks so much – if anything, a little too easily. I’d so much rather that designers-understood-broadly concentrated on producing useful tools, and on making sure those tools didn’t occasion hassle or misery in use.
Let me assemble these components into a meaningful experience “at runtime,” as it were, instead of ramming your idea of fun down my throat. (I think Matt Webb would call this “Generation C” behavior, but I think it’s worthwhile whether he’d recognize it as same or not.) What I’m looking for from designers is tactful acceptance that I intend to use their product to serve my own (now ludic, now serious) ends, rather than a positive assertion that they’ve a priori understood what makes something fun.
But the latter seems to be what were getting at the moment, and will be getting more of for the foreseeable future. And I think this is a shame, because fun – in my book, anyway – is much, much too important to be left to the designers.