An Open Letter From Gary Riccio, PhD
Authored by special guest and former SOF Studios Operating Partner, Dr. Gary Riccio
My use of “brothers” includes both men and women. I will let the audience interpret for themselves what the meaning of “arms” is.
SOF Studios and the Division IGR
What is the relationship between these two organizations, their respective brands, and their respective presence on social media? It seems that this is a question on the minds of many people not associated with SOF Studios or the Division IGR, whether fans or competitors. The simple answer is that Justin Bastian (AKA, Mr. Blue) is founder and co-owner of SOF Studios while he also is a long-time leader in the Division IGR. Formally, that is the essential association. Informally, the Division IGR is a major proponent of SOF Studios in its fan base.
Many members of the Division IGR have an emotional bond with the mission of SOF Studios to bring “a new level of expertise, authenticity, and realism to the video game industry… to showcase the benefits of merging real life combat experience with creative game development,” and “to re-establish the link between gaming companies and their communities by listening and hearing their concerns as we move through the development process” (see About Us at www.sofstudios.com). Many donated to the Kickstarter campaign for SOF Studios’ first game, H-Hour: World's Elite™, and some even donated significant amounts of time to developing the infrastructure of SOF Studios. The fact that the Division IGR is the only gamer community based on a Constitution and Bill of Rights leads to a natural affinity with any studio that seeks a deeper personal and community experience through “in extremis” game play.
As an independent organization, SOF Studios does not speak for the Division IGR nor does the Division IGR speak for SOF Studios. Justin can speak for both, and that can be a source of confusion. This can create further confusion when other members of the Division IGR legitimately express their interest and freedom to speak about SOF Studios or any other game studio. This has all the dangers of sibling relationships, dangers that nobody would want to avoid by keeping siblings from speaking about each, even when such a privileged position and the caring from which it derives reveals a lack of agreement. In my experience as a mediator and integrator (and person from a large family), this applies as much to sibling organizations as it does to a nuclear family unit.
Insofar as SOF Studios is about authenticity and realism with respect to the “Profession of Arms,” it is useful to draw from my experience with sibling support organizations in this profession. There are many support services in the military. I will focus on a central triad of organizations that respectively: (a) develop and acquire everything from food, clothing and shelter to vehicles, weapons and electronics; (b) develop and deliver training and education, identify needs and develop doctrine; and (c) provide scientific and technical expertise ranging from psychology and medicine to physics and engineering. These sibling organizations play important roles and often stray from each other because of the intensity of focus that is required to do their jobs.
To an outsider or a relatively unsophisticated insider, it may seem that these organizations are working at cross purposes and even that people from the different organizations don’t like or respect one another. To be sure, one can find evidence of that just as in the most unified organizations. There also can be opportunity costs from the lack of time and money to coordinate on key issues when urgency of solutions is at a premium. Yet these organizations are brothers in arms that, implicitly or explicitly, reflect and honor the incomparable camaraderie of those they support. This is what I see in the relationship between SOF Studios and the Division IGR, and I believe it is more than an analogy.
H-Hour and Prosocial Gameplay
“H-Hour: World's Elite™ is a tactical, team-based, military shooter… a core multiplayer experience… [with] comprehensive community-building/clan management tools… [because] only by cooperating with your team can you hope to achieve victory… [and] allow you to play with players at your skill level but teach and encourage you how to play tactically.” (see Game Overview at www.sofstudios.com)
H-Hour is being designed and developed by David Sears, a game designer whose work we respect and, in my opinion, a deep thinker among game designers, together with Tom, a co-founder and co-owner of SOF Studios, one of the most accomplished doers from the U.S. military and someone with whom I have had the privilege to work in support of Soldiers and the Global War on Terror. I am confident that the world of video games has not seen the like of what they will produce, and it is my hope that it will raise the level of expectations of all gamers.
H-Hour sets the table, so to speak, just as combat developers outfit and equip Soldiers for particular situations and as tacticians plan a mission that Soldiers can execute adaptively, preferably with confidence, initiative and accountability. For me, H-Hour corresponds to one element of the triad in support of the military, the acquisitions sector, the combat developers.
H-Hour doesn't require or expect prosocial gameplay any more than it requires or expects antisocial gameplay. It merely requires collective gameplay. I will leave it to the imagination and eventually the experience of the audience to assess whether prosocial or antisocial gameplay will lead to more success and a more enjoyable experience.
Prosocial gameplay is my personal interest. That means I am pursuing ways to define and measure what prosocial gameplay is and even to promote it through any game or studio that is up to the task. That is the bias I admit enthusiastically. I have reason to believe from my work and that of other scientists that prosocial gameplay can have some of the life changing positive psychological effects that prosocial interactions have in real life. The body of evidence about this is growing rapidly now that people are finally considering positive effects of games including first-person shooter games (see http://j.mp/1H2QAvt). This work corresponds to a second element of the triad, the S&T (science and technology) sector that supports capabilities development.
While I am promoting prosocial behavior and translating its intangible outcomes into something concrete and verifiable, I am not the one who creates prosocial behavior. I cannot take credit for that with gamers any more than I can take credit for that in the military. Enter my most valued colleagues who have an impact on the world I honor and support to whatever extent I can. These are trainers and instructors such as those in the military. And, for the gamer community, they are people like the leaders in the Division IGR. Most notably, they include my dear friend Justin Bastian from whom I have had the privilege to learn and the honor to support.
The Division IGR thus corresponds to a third element of the triad in support of the military, the training and doctrine sector. The rankings in the Division IGR reflect the acumen and accomplishments of people who observe, guide, model, and nurture gamers to engage in prosocial behavior and experience social media in a way that many people do not understand is possible. Just like Drill Sergeants in Basic Training, they engage with others during actions of tactical team-based military shooters (e.g., gameplay), they engage with them in preparation for action and in after-action reviews (e.g., in game rooms), and they engage them in social situations that have nothing to do with the team-based military actions.
My personal vision is for collaboration with leaders in the Division IGR to promote and develop community play (i.e., gamer community organization and engagement) that complements the gameplay of multiplayer games. My hope is that, together, we ultimately can reach a level of community virtuosity among gamers on par with the virtuosity in the transcendent games designed for “in extremis” fun and the servant leadership exemplified by my colleagues in the military.
How do all three elements of the triad come together in a gaming universe? It is simple really. The outcomes of social gameplay will be as significant and far-reaching as the richness of scenarios and settings in the game. While most video games don’t require prosocial gameplay, if designed for “in extremis” social experiences, they would have the potential to produce the most influential prosocial gameplay as well as the associated community play that can change lives. By implication, game design also can foster the most troubling antisocial gameplay. In essence, such transcendent games are a multiplier of meaning and, existentially, meaning is in the gameplay and community engagement. Thus, I believe the association between inspired game studios and communities like the Division IGR is a moral imperative. It isn't necessary for nominal or monetary success of each initiative separately but it is seductive to imagine…
Gary Riccio, Ph.D.
Senior NASA R&D Leader, Fortune 500 CEO peer coach
Co-Founder, Socent Studios
Gary Riccio, Ph.D. and our founder, Mr. Blue, first met in November 2011 during the early startup stages of SOF Studios. Over the next 18 months, Gary worked closely with Blue, pro bono, to help him accelerate SOF Studios.
Authored by Justin Bastian
Recently, a tweet by author and visionary game designer, Dr. Jane McGonigal caught my eye, "Why don't more people in the game industry stand up to defend our work?", supported by a link to Daniel Greenberg's article, "The Video Game Industry Needs to Defend Herself Now."
After conversing with colleagues on this topic I learned that for most, their absence from the spotlight is not due to lack of compassion or moxie, but because they are concerned with meeting existing deadlines and sustaining employment. Publishers tend to frown on employees engaging in controversial issues, especially of recent magnitude. Through this process, I also learned that the issues are largely unexplored.
The negative lens we find ourselves under today is not a problem, rather an opportunity to educate a nation on the overwhelmingly positive potential of video games. The current criticism of our industry has created for us an international platform. An opportunity to shine our light onto the world.
My colleagues and I share a relatively simple position. The focus should be on the way people play video games, not a particular games classification. Individuals can play any video game, violent or nonviolent, in a way that is prosocial or antisocial. Video game design and community influence how individuals play games. Within this truth is our response to the national criticism.
Video games can reflect and foster shared values. Shared values are the focus of our societal ills, especially the problem of tragic violence. This connection is reflected by the powerful testimony of Mark Mattioli, father of slain 6-year-old Sandy Hook victim, before a gun violence task force in Newton Connecticut.
“Our school is not a building–it’s the teachers, parents, and students”, and our games are not just pixels, they are the creatives who produce them, the communities that support them, and the users who play them. Successful video games bring people together, yielding a community of family, friends, clans, guilds, teammates, and competitors.
Centered on relationships, bonds, and interpersonal influence, playing video games is about adapting to circumstances and overcoming challenges, both as an individual and with others. This is especially true for tactical shooter games, the primary point of attack on our industry. Ironically, the game type receiving the most scrutiny is also the game type suited to introduce a transformative solution, a solution that we believe can be adopted industry wide and across many genres.
Mr. Mattioli emphasized core values, cultivating character, and civility. The "Three C’s" necessary for creating an environment of accountability, personal growth, and leadership. Integrating the Three C’s into the world of gaming through game design and prosocial technology is precisely what my colleagues and I are working to do.
Based on the experiences and evidence gained from "outcomes-based training and education" and adaptive leadership in the U.S. military and the interpersonal influence and social development potential of gaming community, our assertion is quantifiable.
Our experience integrating the Three C’s into gameplay comes by way of The Division IGR, the online gaming community I co-lead. We have developed and organized prosocial behavior through gameplay for more than a decade. Our evidence of affect includes testimonials of gamers whose lives outside of our community, have been transformed through behavior and social experiences within it. Engineering our collective body of experience and evidence into social enterprise is our next frontier.
Today, the video game industry utilizes five standard type classes to categorize gamers. These are:
This type class is unfortunately limited to recognizing only two dimensions of a gamer–his or her investment of time/money and mastery of gameplay mechanics. Current metrics fail to identify the third and most important dimension of every gamer–their character or “persona."
Emphasizing the Three C’s, we have leveraged our experience and evidence to integrate, among other things, an interactive type class that recognizes, encourages, and fosters this third dimension through gameplay. Behold the “persona virtuoso.”
This is our response to the very important question Dr. McGonigal posed in her TED Talk, Games Can Make a Better World, “what exactly are gamers getting good at?”
My colleagues and I hold high our obligation to those our efforts touch, and are dedicated to creating powerful art integrated with the tools necessary to transform the human development potential of online video games.
Transform the heart and mind of an individual, and you can transform a home. Transform a home, and you can transform a community. Transform a community, and you can achieve almost anything.
This is our message to the video game industry and those who seek to better understand it.
Spectacular. In ten years, you will be able to say that you were in the vanguard of the greatest challenge we've faced as an industry: how to make gaming into a positive social force.
This is a new conversation about gaming. It is about individuals, not stereotypes. It is about the experience economy, not compartmentalized supply and demand. It is about open innovation in which gamers are both empowered and accountable for development of the games they choose to play. It is about the pride of self, extended to a community of impact, not just levels of personal performance. It is about bringing games to life and bringing life to games. We hope you will join us on this journey.