Modern Melting Pot

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Can an Environmental Computer Game Save the World?

The Internet taps into the genius and goodness of crowds!

Because of my involvement with The Bay is Dying – An Ecology Game, a multimedia Internet novel-as-a-game, I meditated on the 11/02/2013 Huffington Post headline:

          ZUCK: INTERNET WILL SAVE THE WORLD!  GATES: 'IT'S A JOKE'

Meditate is the exact right word. Meditative or holistic thinking is a good way to be mindful of thinking about things now days. As a novelist who writes nonfiction I was never fulfilled by analytic thinking; and now that I am working with a lot of Millennials, holistic thinking seems to be how they deal with the data saturation that computers have brought into their everyday lives.

Gates analytic mode of thinking (which is the way I was taught to think) breaks down complex questions into small steps that can be dealt with fully. Holistic thinking uses simultaneous searches (as a computer does), pulling stuff from everywhere, often without dealing with anything fully. Everything is an open question.

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, 29, a Millennial, asserted that Internet connectivity is a humanitarian concern. Microsoft billionaire, Bill Gates, 58, who has put billions of dollars into improving healthcare and fighting poverty in developing countries, argues that saying Internet "connectivity is more important than, say, finding a vaccination for malaria . . . As a priority? It's a joke.'"

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The difference between Zuckerberg and Gates may amount to nothing more than each seeing the same thing, but thinking about it as each of their generations has taught them to think.

Malaria is an important symptom but the underlying disease our species faces, a Millennial like Zuckerberg might think, involves the entire human ecosystem. Malaria is connected to mosquitoes, and mosquitoes are connected to global warning, and global warming is connected to, well . . . . everything else in the universe. 

This made me pull up for meditation a Spiritual from the American tradition into which I was born—in the African-American tradition:

                  De toe bone connected to de foot bone,
                  De foot bone connected to de ankle bone,
                  De ankle bone connected to de leg bone,

Finding a vaccination for malaria may be like healing the thigh bone. Important but what might most need healing is our human connection to the entire natural, social, and constructed world, a Millennial might say.. Only when everything is connected can “Dem bones git up and walk aroun'. Dem bones git up and dance aroun' “

Zuckerberg’s millennial dream of universal connectivity is the dream of holism. The dream is older than Ezekiel, who in the Bible story of 600 BC, was brought into a valley of dry bones; and when asked can these bones live, Ezekiel said: Sovereign “. . . you alone know.” (Ezekiel 37: 3 New International Version)

Certainly the Internet comes closer (far closer) than anything ever has to being capable of pulling all the bones together into a holistic consciousness of oneness with the universe, which will at last, we dream, allow us to walk out of the valley of dry bones. Analytically, however, if the dream is presently focused only on technology, it is holism without human content.

Some of the content is in that infinite number of ecological concerns whose spirit is represented among the projects at Earth Island Institute (EII)., for examples,.There are thousands of technology incubators.  EII is “an incubator for start-up environmental projects. . .” It the only incubator I’ve seen for:

 “. . . grassroots campaigns dedicated to conserving, preserving, and restoring the ecosystems on which our civilization depends. . .

. . .giving crucial assistance to groups and individuals with new ideas for promoting ecological sustainability

. . . making its members more effective together than they could ever be apart. . ." Earth Island Institute – About Us

 Some of the content is at the Pollination Project, which, by giving $1,000 every day to an environmental project, is seeding human content so that as each project seeds other projects endlessly. By meditating I can “get” that pollination is a way to reach toward holism.  John Muir, the great ecologist and founder of the Sierra Club, once wrote "When we try to pick out anything by itself we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe". 

                                                           *     *     *

Back when advances in the use of printing presses made possible the mass production of books, novelists used stories to create Universes. Stories of an era may be as close as we can come during that era to the consciousness of oneness. Ezekiel would probably agree. That’s why he was a storyteller.

The rage to achieve holism, to grasp everything at once, was “the madness” of Leo Tolstoy with War and Peace, George Eliot with Middlemarch, and Charles Dickens with A Tale of Two Cities. In fact all great novels are propelled by that rage. Then, historically, with the dawning of this sense of individual separateness called modernism, the novel became preoccupied with the drama of the small, disconnected, self against the world.

One complaint against Millennials is that for them the Internet has become the communication medium of the individual, isolated self—MySpace. My Facebook profile, My network, etc.

But, paradoxically, the farther we go into the digital age, the more the Internet reveals itself to be the medium of the inner-connected self.  And with the Internet being the medium of the inner-connected self, then maybe the novel writer’s madness for the present generation can only be expresses by use of the Internet to create an inner-connected novel.

Many of the people whose passions have kept me, a Baby Boomer, involved as Creative Director of The Bay is Dying – An Ecology Game are Millennials. Mind you, most of the writers involved are not Millennials. They range across all generational modes of thinking.

However, it is the Millennials who I am constantly asking:: “What are we doing”?  Cathy's remark was a good example of what they say:

It’s not that we don’t care, we just don’t know how we can have an impact on such colossal problems, so we turn it off in our minds. But The Bay Is Dying is an approach to pollution that’s like nothing anyone else has ever done because until recently in our history the technology didn’t even exist to pull together a world-wide collaboration like this.

Solutions are no longer people “somewhere else” trying to save the world. Fixing problems is now a million (okay a billion, a gazillion, the more the better) people all doing it together. One person is no longer just one person. We are a crowd of people, a humongous crowd that is making change happen through the novel-as-a-game. You want to get involved because when you do you’re actually in the dynamic of change, not just hoping it gets done by other people. The Bay is Dying is a living, changing story of how we, the big WE, created a movement that you were a part of. -- Cathy Adams,

Into my meditation was bound to come some impressions from Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal. The way to fix reality, the book says is through cooperative games that millions of people around the world can play. But wouldn't that depend on which games, I thought, as I read what Dana had to written:

 Everyone likes to play games on the Internet and in social media, right, and everyone loves a gripping story. What if there was a game that would have millions of players doing things to win points and prizes that help save the planet.

Suppose the game was also a story featuring mysterious realistic characters moving across the globe from one environmental hot spot to another. What are the characters up to, and why? Players’ follow the action and get involved in winning points and prizes by learning ways and doing things to avert environmental disasters.

It’s a mystery story. As “Avatars of Goodness”, are players working for or against the interests of the shadowy characters in The Bay is Dying?  This interactive, multimedia, multiplatform, group-authored, Internet thriller begins in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, just below Washington DC.

But through branching narratives the story spreads to wherever in the world human life is under siege by abusers of the environment. Each player’s Avatars of Goodness follows; and by participating in ecology-saving game elements—briefings, interrogations, and assignments (inside the game or in the real world)—players find themselves drawn into a tense, exciting drama that unfolds over the 24-month, chapter-by-chapter serialization of our online ecology game. -- Dana Wilson 

I am aware of my gathering statements for a crowd funding campaign for The Bay is Dying. I “get” why Millennials wish to be free of dependency on grants and contracts which force a focus on the thigh, and each individual, bone. For them the call is everywhere: “Join the Crowd Funding Revolution!” (except they write crowdfunding as one word. I hit “Add to dictionary” on my keyboard.)

I asked Justin: “What are we doing”?

Who are we? We’re a group of people from across the world who decided to work together to create something special, with the ultimate goal of making people really see the impact pollution is having on the planet.

We’re musicians, writers, gamers, teachers … and we’re also you. Because The Bay Is Dying doesn’t work without you. Your interaction with us, with it, brings this interactive, multimedia, multiplatform group-authored Internet novel-as-a game to life. 

Look. It’s real simple. We’ve been witnessing pollution for so long, dealing with spills and leaks and haze for so many years, that most of us don’t even notice it anymore. Or, if we do, most of us assume there’s nothing we can do. One person can’t change the world . . . right?

That’s where The Bay Is Dying comes in. Hear me out for a minute. 

First, there’s the argument side, one that everyone outwardly agrees with. More than that, though, is an obligation we have to act on this common belief, to do the right thing for ourselves and for future generations and each of us do a small part in protecting the planet.

The other side, though, has to do with the story, with the artfulness of what’s unfolds here. The Bay Is Dying is a novel, it’s a game. It’s a world-wide, creative collaboration, which you, along with us, can make into a movement. --  Justin Nicholes

The Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University in the UK agreed to help us use knowledge of digital creativity, gaming technology, and education & semantic web, and cross, social & Interactive Media Storytelling to turn the chapters of the text-based novel into multimedia content. The objective is to create literary effects wordlessly. 

We Baby Boomers always looked upon “nerd” as a pejorative term; but out in the middle of America there is a group who describe themselves as nerds –100 nerds working under one roof—who are standing by to put the multimedia content into story code and publish it online as a game/novel.

 One of them said:

The game (we build) will clearly appeal to folks who care about the environment, because of the content. Our job is to make it appealing to people outside of this audience as well.

The pull now days is toward the inner-connected self. A basic human urge is toward connectedness. I meditate on keeping myself in touch with the older mystery writers in our group so that this thing doesn’t get too vague. The holistic aspirations of the coming-of-age generation are important but we still have to attend to thigh bones.  

I noticed that each one the nerds is a co-President of their company, not a single CEO as Bill Gates was at Microsoft. Watching it all makes me end my meditation by paraphrasing Ezekiel, “Sovereign, you alone know. “

This is true no matter who anyone among us understands the Sovereign to be, Amen!”

George Davis, as creative director of Quest Digital Worldwide, has assembled a world-wide team of volunteers and Strategic Partners to build an interactive, group-authored, Internet novel-as-a-game-for-good. The game-novel, The Bay is Dying, is about a global struggle to save the environment. 

George Davis is professor emeritus at Rutgers University. His latest book is Until We Got Here.

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