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Al Gore shares an incontestable truth: 'Games are the new normal'


"Games have clearly arrived as a mass medium," former Vice President Al Gore professed to a crowd of Games for Change conference attendees this afternoon. Gore gave the event's keynote address at New York University earlier today, where he looked especially sleepy from a redeye flight out of Tokyo. "This is a very large, extremely significant industry, with a radically diverse and growing audience of players on all kinds of platforms," he added, citing the ubiquity of gaming over the past few years as a result of efforts by major console manufacturers, smartphone makers, and (of course) Facebook. "Games are the new 'normal' for hundreds of millions of users every month."

Gore went on to speak about his own admittedly short past with gaming, saying that the last game where he felt he "was best in the world, potentially" was Pong. He did, however, recently convert his book "Our Choice" into an eBook for iOS devices. He related this experience with the world of "serious games," where gaming is used to "illuminate issues that can seem intractable and overly complex." In so many words, it was an arduous process for him to convert the book -- just as it's difficult to convert complex concepts to the gaming medium.

The secret sauce, he claimed, was in working with a group of "really good partners who know what they're doing." Identifying those partners, however, is where things get tricky. "How you insure that the integrity of the content is not in any way compromised, but rather enhanced," he pointed out, is another major issue. Without providing a roadmap for how to navigate that issue, Gore put it on conference attendees to take up the task -- not to mention the hundreds of millions of gamers worldwide. Gaming is the new "normal," after all, so shouldn't gamers be involved?

Moving on to the ever-popular serious games subject of "gamification," Gore noted that "game patterns are becoming more ubiquitous in our culture," though he admits that simply adding the bells and whistles of games to various content doesn't always help in teaching complex subjects. Gore's worked with former EA exec Bing Gordon, as well as Sims creator Will Wright, to point out a list of qualities that all games -- "serious" or not -- should adopt to be successful.

Crediting Gordon with the majority of the work, Gore detailed the four properties all games should have. For one, the game needs to be immediately engaging, "within the first five seconds," otherwise the player loses interest. Second, they need to "win" and they need to "win fast," thus providing the gamer with incentive to return. For the third and fourth points, Gore invoked graphical ubiquity (visual mediums must be consistent) and "Wow!" moments -- "badges/levels/awards" all matter, but not to the exclusion of "major moments."

And finally, during a moderated Q&A hosted by the Ford Foundation's Democracy, Rights and Justice program VP Maya Harris, Gore restated his belief that serious games -- games for change, if you will -- can be just as successful as for-profit titles. While he noted that we live in a "marketing culture," he believes that human beings and social mediums can help overcome the power of marketing. We're not so sure if we agree with that statement, but it certainly is a nice thought!

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