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The Future

"The Engagement Economy." Technology Horizons for The Institute for the Future. 2009.

In the economy of engagement, it is less and less important to compete for attention, and more and more important to compete for things like brain cycles and interactive bandwidth. Crowd-dependent projects must capture the mental energy and the active effort it takes to make individual contributions to a larger whole.

But how, exactly, do you turn attention into engagement? How do you convert a member of the crowd into a member of your team? To answer these questions, innovative organizations will have to grapple with the new challenge of harnessing "participation bandwidth." To do so, they may start to take their cues not from the world of business, but rather from the world of play. Game designers, virtual world builders, social media developers, and other "funware" creators have the potential to offer essential design strategies and economic theories for otherwise "serious" initiatives. Read this article.



"Why I Love Bees: A Case Study in Collective Intelligence Gaming." Ecologies of Play. Ed. Katie Salen. This essay was made possible by grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in connection with its grant making initiative on Digital Media and Learning. Read this article.

Can a computer game teach collective intelligence? The term ‘collective intelligence’, or CI for short, was originally coined by French philosopher Pierre Levy in 1994 to describe the impact of Internet technologies on the cultural production and consumption of knowledge. Levy argued that because the Internet facilitates a rapid, open and global exchange of data and ideas, over time the network should “mobilize and coordinate theintelligence, experience, skills, wisdom, and imagination of humanity” in new and unexpected ways. As part of his utopian vision for a more collaborative knowledge culture, he predicted: “We are passing from the Cartesian cogito”—I think, therefore I am—“to cogitamus”—we think, therefore we are. But there is no guarantee that everyone with access to computer network technologies will beautomatically absorbed into this culture of collective intelligence. Indeed, in Convergence Culture, media theorist Henry Jenkins reminds us that as we embark on an age of powerful, networked collaboration, “We are just learning how to exercise that power—individually and collectively—and fighting to define the terms under which we will be allowed to participate.” Once CI systems are in place, how do we ensure widespread entry into the collective? To engage as many and as diverse a group of people as possible in the new knowledge network, specific CI skills will need to be taught to the general population. Indeed, as CI becomes an increasingly important component of our social, political and creative lives, it seems increasingly likely that our formal education system will need to include both instruction and practice in how to construct and contribute to a collective intelligence. In our present-day society, “search and analysis” computer games, often in the form of alternate reality games, are already taking up the task of teaching young people a basic literacy in collective intelligence. This case study is an exploration of one such game.

"The Puppet Master Problem: Design for Real-World, Mission-Based Gaming." Second Person. MIT Press, January 2007. Eds. Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Read this article.

Puppet masters are the first real-time, digital game designers. An invisible creative team composed of shadowy, often anonymous figures, they work behind the scenes as the writers, programmers, directors and stage managers of live pervasive gameplay. In a cross between a digital dare and street theater, puppet masters challenge gamers to take their gaming public, to create face-to-face community with other gamers, to play in environments they wouldn’t normally play, to interact with strangers they wouldn’t typically acknowledge, to make spontaneous spectacles of themselves, and to rewrite the social rules of a given space in highly visible ways. Why would any gamer agree to be a public ‘puppet’ of an anonymous game designer? Where is the fun in such a rigid gaming structure? And furthermore, where is the propriety? To some critics, such an unbalanced power dynamic seems a bit perverse; to others, it seems downright dangerous. How do you structure a game so that you can effectively, and remotely, ‘pull the strings’ of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of players without making them feel like mere puppets? How do you develop the puppet master-player relationship into a collaborative one, and what real-time recourses do you have to actively manage that relationship? I will offer a series of critical frameworks for understanding both the pleasures of the puppet mastered experience and the real-time design strategies that support those pleasures.

"Supergaming! Ubiquitous Play and Performance for Massively Scaled Community." Modern Drama. Special Issue on Technology. Ed. W.B. Worthen. 48:3 (Fall 2005) 471-491. Read this article.

This essay presents a design imperative for social software engineers, game developers, network designers and all the other architects of digital community: more, more, more. Why more? “The more the better” (Andrew Fluegelman, founding member of the 1970s New Games Movement, on the optimal number of players for their patently oversized and intensely physical games). Players experience phenomenological pleasure in being part of a much larger, co-present whole. “More is different” (P.W. Anderson, physicist, on the emergence of unpredictable atomic interaction in complex particle systems). Unexpected things happen when you scale up. “More is needed” (Pat Miller, computer scientist, on the massive number of Central Processing Units required to construct a “do-it-yourself” supercomputer). To become exponentially more powerful, to pass the coveted threshold to “super,” you need to connect as many individual parts as possible. These three tenets comprise the more, more, massively more connectivity I dream of for network communities in today’s new-media landscape. Massively more is a vision of digital social networks designed and deployed to produce more pleasure, more emergence, and more superpower, through community formation on a massive scale.

"A Real Little Game: The Performance of Belief in Pervasive Play."  Digital Games Research Associaton (DiGRA) "Level Up" Conference Proceedings.  November 2003.  Read this paper.

Ubiquitous computing and mobile network technologies have fueled a recent proliferation of opportunities for digitally-enabled play in everyday spaces.  In this paper, I examine how players negotiate the boundary between these pervasive games and real life.  I trace the emergence of what I call “the Pinocchio effect” – the desire for a game to be transformed into real life, or conversely, for everyday life to be transformed into a "real little game.”  Focusing on two examples of pervasive play – the 2001 immersive game known as the Beast, and the Go Game, an ongoing urban superhero game — I argue that gamers maximize their play experience by performing belief, rather than actually believing, in the permeability of the game-reality boundary.

"This Is Not a Game: Immersive Aesthetics & Collective Play." Digital Arts & Culture 2003 Conference Proceedings.  May 2003.  Read this paper.

The increasing convergence and mobility of digital network technologies have given rise to new, massively-scaled modes of social interaction where the physical and virtual worlds meet. This paper explores one product of these extreme networks, the emergent genre of immersive entertainment, as a potential tool for harnessing collective action. Through an analysis of the structure and rhetoric of immersive games, I explore how immersive aesthetics can generate a new sense of social agency in game players, and how collaborative play techniques can instruct real-world problem-solving.

"The High Performance Gameplay Inventory." Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) "Changing Worlds" Conference. June 2005. Read this article.

All gameplay is performance, and all gamers are performers. But some gamers adopt unexpected strategies to make their gameplay more extroverted, more attention-generating, more compulsively watchable, more theatrical — in other words, more high performance. This worksheet presents six vectors for transforming ordinary digital gameplay into high performance gameplay, and proposes a high performance gameplay inventory system based on actual high performance gameplay strategies observable in contemporary digital games culture.


"Notes Toward a More Pervasive Cyberdrama."  Electronic Book Review. June 2004. (Special issue for the MIT Press release of First Person. Read this article.

In response to essays by Janet Murray, Michael Mateas and Ken Perlin, I explore the potential for a more pervasive cyberdrama.  In this article, I ask: What could we learn about the dramatic potential of cybernetic systems, as well as the cybernetic potential of modern drama, by developing a more mobile and ubiquitious dramaturgy?

"A Lost Cause: Performance and the Free Speech Movement Digital Archive."  American Society for Theatre Research 2003 Meeting.  November 2003.  Read this paper.

Is there room for dramatic improvement in the way digital archivists approach their art?  If so, how might performance intervene in the current Sisyphean struggle against digital decay?  In this paper, I take my cue from Peter Lunenfeld’s proposal in the introduction to The Digital Dialectic (1999): “"Rather than thinking of the digital media and environments mentioned herein as though they possessed the stability of painting or architecture, better to embrace their mercurial qualities and conceptualize them as being somehow evanescent, like theatrical performances or dance."  What would happen if we treated digital archives not as attempts at a permanent cultural record that bypass the messy organic difficulties and decay of hard-copy materiality, but rather as ephemeral objects that offer up opportunities for distinctly embodied and collective experiences?  This paper addresses a range of theoretical complications that occurred when I attempted to transplant a performance studies approach to the theories and methods of archive practice. 

Technologies & Technical Papers

"Place Storming: Performing New Technologies in Context." Ken Anderson, Intel Research, and Jane McGonigal, University of California at Berkeley.  Proceedings for the 3rd annual Nordic Conference on Computer Human Interface (NordCHI 04).  Read this paper.

We present Place Storming, an original method of brainstorming technological concepts, particularly in the area of pervasive computing. Place Storming is context-driven and play-based, combining real world environments with the immersive and performative aspects of gaming. In this paper, we discuss the background and techniques we used to create and deploy our method. Examples are drawn from a March 2004 Place Storming event to highlight key strengths of the method. Suggestions are made for what produces successful Place Storming sessions.

"Unsupervised Scoring for Scalable Internet-Based Collaborative Teleoperation."  Ken Goldberg, Dezhen Song, In Yong Song, Jane McGonigal, Wei Zheng, UC Berkeley, and Dana Plautz, Intel Corporation.  Conference proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), April 2004.  Read this paper.

Our group is studying the potential for scalable Internet-based Collaborative (multi-operator single robot) Teleoperation, where many users simultaneously share control using browser-based point-and-click interfaces.  In this paper we describe our "unsupervised scoring" system for individual assessment within a collaborative activity.  We explore how unsupervised scoring can be used to increase incentive for active and effective interaction and how user performance can be numerically reprsented based on cluster organization, frequency of interaction and response time.

Meditations and Reflections

"Questioning: a reflection on the Demonstrate project." Written for Making Things Public, an art-technology exhibition at ZKM Karslruhe (March 2005). Collaborators on the Demonstrate project and exhibition: Ken Goldberg, Dezhen Song, Andrew Dahl, Jeremy Schiff, Irene Chien, Jane McGonigal and Kris Paulsen. Read this article.

This reflection on the Demonstrate project, a public and collaboratively-controlled state-of-the-art robotic web camera installed in historic Sproul Plaza, features a selection of user-generated questions, taken directly from the captions of user photos and from the user comments that appear below photos in the Demonstrate archive. They have not been edited, and they appear in the same chronological order in which they were originally asked. Together, these “found questions” are intended to evoke the sense of playful inquiry, practical curiosity, political engagement, sense of audience, and self-reflexivity that developed within the Demonstrate community. Their unfolding over time captures the shifting dynamics that emerged among users, and between the watchers and the watched.

"Watching Horror: A Gendered Look at Terrorism, or, Everything I Know, I Learned Watching Psycho." Senses of Cinema Magazine.  November 2001.  Read this article.

ABSTRACT: A personal meditation on viewing strategies developed as a long-time watcher of horror movies, and an analysis of how these habits affected the author's experience of watching television coverage of the 9/11 attacks.


"Making Alternate Reality the New Business Reality." Op-Ed. Harvard Business Review. Special Issue: Top 20 Breakthrough Ideas for 2008. February 2008.

"Massively Collaborative Science." Op-Ed. Seed Magazine. Special Issue: The Universe in 2008. February 2008.

"Gamers have skills. Let's tap 'em." Op-Ed. Christian Science Monitor. November 5, 2007.

"Re: My Crowd." Letter to Harper's Magazine. June 2006.


"Growing up Gamer." READ. Autobiographical notes on the text and graphic adventures that shaped the way I view the world.

I was born in 1977, the same year the original home videogame console, the Atari 2600, came out. I was right on top of the very first wave of the gamer generation. We never knew a world without computer and videogames.    

My family couldn’t afford an Atari 2600. We had a used Magnavox Odyssey 2, which meant we were not as cool as some of our friends. That didn’t matter. I adored our Odyssey machine. Some of my best and earliest memories are of playing KC Munchkin, a knock-off of Pac-Man, with my dad and my twin sister in our living room. I was better than my sister, but not as good as my dad. Which always seemed to me exactly as it should be...

"All Game Play is Performance/Game Play is All Performance." A manifesto in anticipation of delivering the keynote address for Playful: The State of the Art Game. May 2005. Download.

This manifesto argues that all game play is performance, and there is no gaming without performance. This manifesto claims all digital games in the name of theater. This manifesto contends that gamers create Gesamtkunstwerk. “Install base: Everyone. The entire public. Platform: The world. The entire electronic sphere. If we could make your toaster print something we would. Anything with an electric current running through it. A single story, a single gaming experience, with no boundaries. A game that is life itself.”

"The Curious Interface: A Design Manifesto in Favor of Play."  UbiComp 2003.  October 2003.  READ THE MANIFESTO:  Version 1.0: "A reasonable request." OR Version 2.0: "An escalation of our demands." 

This manifesto argues that our opportunities to engage digitally are increasingly limited and pre-determined by technologies that too clearly announce their intentions and capabilities. The user who instantly understands the purpose and processes of a technology is compelled to respond in specific, directed ways. Once learned, these habits preclude user experimentation, modification and intervention. For this reason, we must insist: clarity in design is not always an advantage.  On the contrary, we call for more curious interfaces...

"PlaceStormers: A Manifesto."  READ. Created for Intel Research.  March 2004.  Also, read a set of PlaceStormer Missions to be deployed in conjunction with the manifesto.

This manifesto calls for more play, space, expression and everyday superpowers in shared, public environments.  It outlines a set of beliefs in support of its demands and suggests a series of modus operandi.


This Might Be a Game: Ubiquitous Play and Performance at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century.

 This dissertation was filed in August 2006 with the department of performance studies at the University of California at Berkeley, and is copyright of the author, Jane Evelyn McGonigal.

This Might Be a Game examines the historical intersection of ubiquitous computing and experimental game design, circa 2001 AD. Ubiquitous computing, or ubicomp, is the emerging field of computer science that seeks to augment everyday objects and physical environments with invisible and networked computing functionality. Experimental game design is the field of interactive arts that seeks to discover new platforms and contexts for digital play. The convergence of these two fields has produced a significant body of games that challenge and expand our notions of where, when, and with whom we can play. This dissertation explores how and to what ends these playful projects reconfigure the technical, formal and social limits of games in relation to everyday life.

To mark the heterogeneity of this experimental design space at the turn of the twenty-first century, I propose three distinct categories of ubiquitous play and performance. They are: ubicomp games, research prototypes that advance the scientific agenda of ubiquitous computing through game design; pervasive games, performance-based interventions that use game imagery to disrupt the normative conventions of public spaces and private technologies; and ubiquitous games, commercial entertainment projects that replicate the interactive affordances of video and computer games in the real world.

I examine seminal games from each of these three categories, including Can You See Me Now? (Blast Theory/Mixed Reality Lab, 2001); the Big Urban Game (The Design Institute, 2003); and The Beast (Microsoft, 2001) respectively. My discussion draws on original gameplay media, design statements, and first-person player accounts. My critical framework is based on close readings of the play and performance values expressed in the founding ubicomp manifestos of Rich Gold and Mark Weiser. I argue that the persistent responsiveness developed by players to potential ludic interaction represents a new kind of critical gaming literacy. The gamers grow to read the real world as rich with ludic opportunity, carefully testing everyday media, objects, sites, and social situations for the positive and negative consequences of inscribing each within the magic circle of play. I conclude by outlining a course for the future study of these categories that is based in the pre-digital games theory of Johann Huizinga, Roger Caillois, and Brian Sutton-Smith. I argue that as the perceived opportunities for digitally networked play become increasingly ubiquitous, game designers and researchers must attend more carefully to the insights of philosophers, anthropologists and psychologists who historically have explored play as an embodied, social and highly consequential ritual, always already grounded in the practices of everyday life.

The dissertation is quite long (over 500 pages). I encourage readers to focus on chapters 1, 8, and 9, as an introduction to the major arguments and themes of the research.

Download "This Might Be a Game: Ubiquitous Play in the Everyday."


I am posting all new slides (2008 - present) at

Please enjoy the archived slides (pre-2007) below.

Please attribute the author, Jane McGonigal, and this site,, wherever and whenever you use my content, including any of the original statistics, definitions, or historical data presented in the slides below. Thank you!

BEST OF: These are my favorite talks.

*"The Future of Collective Play." Powerpoint from the Design + Research Keynote at the Serious Games Summit, Game Developers Conference. DOWNLOAD. (March 2007)

* "Creating Alternate Realites - or, Hacking Happiness." Slides from a keynote for ETech 2007. VIEW. (March 2007)

*"Engineering the Future Through Play." Powerpoint from the keynote for NEXT 2006 (Nordic Excepional Trendshop). DOWNLOAD. (December 2006)

*"Alternate Reality Gaming: Experimental Social Structures for MMOs." PowerPoint from design track lecture at Austin Game Conference. DOWNLOAD. (October 2005)

*"SuperGaming." PowerPoint from invited lecture at Stanford University. DOWNLOAD. (February 2005)

*"Puppetmasters and Performance." PowerPoint from an invited lecture at HUMlab in Umea, Sweden. DOWNLOAD. (May 2005)

*"Alternate Reality Learning." PowerPoint from the Creative Design panel at the E3 Education Arcade. DOWNLOAD. (May 2005)

* "Dark Play in Public Spaces: Confessions of a Flash Mob Organizer." PowerPoint presentation (PDF of slides) from Performance Studies international #10 in Singapore.  DOWNLOAD. (June 2004)

* "Play or Else: A performance studies approach to ubiquitous gaming." PowerPoint presentation (PDF of slides) from Ph.D. qualifying lecture   Alternate title: "Ceci n'est pas un pareidolia."  DOWNLOAD. (April 2004)

REST OF: I like these too.

"Experimental Gameplay: Toward a Massively Popular Scientific Practice." For the virtual worlds seminar at the 2007 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (February 2007) DOWNLOAD.

"The Game Studies Download: Top 10 Research Findings." PowerPoints from game design track lecture at Game Developers Conference 2006 and 2007. DOWNLOAD THE SLIDES. (March 2006) (March 2007)

"Down the rabbit hole." Quickfire talk at 050505: Center for New Media Groundbreaking. DOWNLOAD. (May 2005)

"All Gameplay is Performance" (the full release). PowerPoint from the keynote talk for Playful: State of the Art game at t'Hoogt in Utrecht. DOWNLOAD. (May 2005)

"All Gameplay is Performance" (the beta test). Notes from an artists' talk at the Organum Exhibition @ New Langton Arts. DOWNLOAD. (April 2005)

"Experimental Gameplay: I Love Bees." Lecture at the Game Developers Conference 2005. DOWNLOAD. (March 2005)

"I Love Bees: A Buzz Story." Powerpoint from Word of Mouth Marketing panel at AD:Tech 2005. DOWNLOAD. (April 2005)

"Alternate Reality Gaming: 'Life Imitates ARG.' " PowerPoint from a presentation for the MacArthur Foundation Board of Directors.   DOWNLOAD. (November 2004)

"5 Urban Search Terms." PowerPoint presentation (PDF of slides) from Intel Research Urban Computing Happening.   DOWNLOAD.  (July 2004)

"Site-specific Superheroes!" PowerPoint presentation (PDF of slides) from 040404 UC Digital Arts Network symposium.   DOWNLOAD. (April 2004)

Report from "PlaceStorming Workshop" co-facilitated by Jane McGonigal and Ken Anderson for Intel Research DOWNLOAD. (March 2004)

 "The Runaway Game: Spectacle and Performance in Public Play." PowerPoint presentation (PDF of slides) from StoryEngines conference at Stanford University.  DOWNLOAD. (February 2004)

Report from the "Entertainment and Play Workshop" co-facilitated by Jane McGonigal and Ken Anderson at Intel's Meaning of Place Forum. DOWNLOAD. (September 2003)

"A Real Little Game: The Pinocchio Effect in Pervasive Perversive Play." PowerPoint presentation  (PDF of slides) for DiGRA 2003.   DOWNLOAD.  (November 2003)

"This Is Not a Game: Immersive Aesthetics & Collective Play." PowerPoint presentation (PDF of slides) for Melbourne DAC 03.    DOWNLOAD.  (May 2003)

"Introduction to Collective Play." PowerPoint presentation for 030303: Collective Play.   DOWNLOAD. (March 2003)


Jane McGonigal, Curriculum Vitae. Updated January, 2007. (Sorry, it's quite out of date!)