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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

You’re already playing Grand Theft Auto: The game of College

<re to err and to dream.  Deep meaning often lies in childish plays.”
Friedrich von Schiller (Yes That Schiller)

Walking past the bookshelf at the Sayles-Hill bookstore I noted a book called Ready Player One with Pac-Man styling on the cover.  I quickly did some research about the book.  It’s about a dystopian society in a virtual world on a ravaged earth.  While, to be honest, I have not read the book, it always amuses me that when we talk about future earth, virtual worlds come up as dystopias.  Virtual Worlds and games are often seen as detached, unfulfilling, drug-like, escape machines.  This seems to be the defining about video games, and, more broadly, games in general.  Is this even true?

For the purposes of this article I’m going to say that a game is a system made up of goals, rules, feedback, and voluntary participation.

Let’s imagine a day at Carleton.  What if we assigned a point system to the process?  Wake up (is it on-time Health +1, good for you), throw on some clothes (bad hair day?, ego -1), go to breakfast (it’s the most important meal of the day +50, great job!). (Health +51 Ego -1)  Go to class (0 points, this is the most important part, you have to go to this), get papers back (you got a B, great job! Grade +5, Ego +1).  (Score Health +51 Ego -1 Grade +5) Go to Lunch (Health +5, it’s not thaaat important of a meal).  Talk (Socializing +5).  Engage in extracurricular activities (Frisbee achievement unlocked!).  Talk More (Socializing +5 Stress +10).  Go sleep (Early tonight! Stress -5 Health +5). 

If we wanted to give you a score it would be:  Health +61 Ego +0 Grade +5 Socializing +10 Stress +5.  While this is an admittedly simplistic representation, it does outline a general sense of potential feelings one might experience during a day (plus being positive, minus being negative and points assigned a vaguely appropriate value).  Feelings of health, academics, stress, sleep, hunger all go through are heads constantly.

Want to know the dirty little secret?  College is a game.  College, much like Pokemon, Grand Theft Auto, and World of Warcraft is a game with rules, goals, points, and even side-adventures (Heck, there’s even a checklist of Carleton traditions you should take part in before graduating.  Sure sounds like an Achievement Unlocked to me).

The reality is, games build systems of logic to create experiences.  We’ve been creating games for millennia. Sports are, in their own way, virtual realities.  For about 3 hours every Sunday afternoon during the fall in America teams compete in another universe ruled by men in black and white stripes with whistles and flags.  And have you ever felt the pain of watching your team lose when it really counted?  The emotion is real. 

 In fact, Jane McGonigal, in her book Reality is Broken, rather aptly argues that the reason virtual gaming is on the rise is because humans today are not finding intrinsic value in what we do in “reality”.  And, if you want to see real world value coming out of playing games, just go to or  Both are excellent examples of how games are being made to increase our understanding of life and our society.

People pay a lot of money in tuition to take tests, write essays, talk to profs, talk to students, talk to staff, stay up late, get stressed, and feel a variety of emotions within a system that is designed to provoke all of these responses.  College is its own kind of virtual world, we just call it a bubble.  So the next time you see someone playing Angry Birds, Settlers of Catan, Magic: The Gathering, or World of Warcraft, don’t jump straight to escapism, but see another connection to the experience that occurs inside Carleton College’s own virtual reality.

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