Jane McGoningal gave an interesting TED talk about how Online Gaming can Make a Better World . One of her points is that there is no unemployment in games such as World of Warcraft, there is always a “world saving” mission available to you which is just within reach of your skill level – and no-one is assigned a mission that they can’t possibly do. It seems to me that the free software development community has a similar issue, there are always “missions” available at all skill levels. Our challenge is to find ways to encourage people to accept the missions and to provide them appropriate levels of support to encourage them on their path to an “epic win“. Choosing a suitable mission is a particularly difficult problem as you often don’t know how difficult a task will be until you are more than half complete.
Jane makes points about humans being happier when working hard and a desire for “epic meaning“. She says that it’s a problem that gamers believe that they can change a virtual world but not the “real world“. If you change the “virtual world” of software development then that changes the “real-world“.
Jane cites Herodotus as reporting a kingdom that was gripped in a famine for 18 years where the king instituted a policy of playing games and eating on alternate days with the aim being that the games would distract people from their hunger. I’m sure that I’m not the only person who’s gone without food or water for a day because of being too busy coding…
She has a lot of other interesting points and I recommend that you read the Institute For The Future  web site for more background information.
Now my question is, how can we encourage programmers to start doing Free Software and Open Source development and achieving some Epic Wins? I don’t claim to have good answers and I would appreciate any suggestions. If you blog about this please leave a comment on this post to direct readers to your blog.