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You are right that being optimistic makes you more successful as a business guy. As a business guy you should also always try to paint your front teeth as white as possible.

Most games nowadays are pretty good. They do more things right than wrong. We wouldn't get anywhere if we just pointed out how good these games are.
The list of things that nowadays games do bad is much shorter. Therefore, if you want to drive the industry forward, criticize! Constructively, if possible, but not necessarily.

Innovation starts with people who want to change something specific for the better. To accomplish that they first need to identify and emotionally connect with what they want to change. Innovation certainly doesn't benefit from praising the status quo.


I agree on the criticise-to-analyse point. That's being like Max. It's understanding the flaws, but also the potential, to move things forward.

Thanks for the comment Nils.

Allen Varney

Not to appear angry (which is not the same as negativity), but your thesis seems provably false. I admire McGonigal's work a lot, and her positivity is a key part of her personal charm, but she's achieved her success through hard work and brilliant thinking, not Polyanna sunshine. Meanwhile, Zynga's Marc Pincus -- a man filled with rank hatred, festering rage, and a devouring need for revenge -- has become gaming's biggest recent success story.

People are motivated by all kinds of emotions, and a whole range of powerful emotions can prompt good work and/or success.


Hi Allen,

I know that Jane works very hard, and it's a false impression to come away from what I've written above to say she's nothing but moonbeams and sunshine. Nonetheless the particular messages that she taps into are overwhelmingly positive. Check out the trailer for SuperBetter as a case in point.

As for Mark, he may well be as you describe, but when he got into the games business he had no affiliations to it. That enabled him and his team to think differently that folks within the trade such as ourselves who wouldn't have been able to consider doing what Zynga did. He's also, so the story goes, a huge Tony Robbins fan.

Thanks for the comment.


In a world where positivity means creativity, and we believe that it is better to create bad things than not create at all, then all this is true. But that world, the one you're implicitly suggesting, is a very particular viewpoint. It totally depoliticises anger and says it only exists as an emotion. Angry about injustice? Don't be. Just go find some positive minded people and 'do something about it'. Right?

For many, this way of being is as damaged and broken and lonely and destructive as pure negativity. You can't instruct people to change their personality or their politics. Critics have always had a positive role in culture. Critical thinking helps the world. Critical attitudes help the world. Its always been denied, and yet its true.

A fundamental question that makes people fight about these things is whether or not they believe a entrepreneurial culture of creativity is a prima facie good. If you do, then of course critics who seek to peg back what you see as progress will come off as negative and only negative. They don't add anything. But from another perspective - my perspective - then it matters a great deal what's made, by whom, and for the profit of whom. Some things that are made do harm to the world. And sometimes they can be forestalled with public criticism. The history of such things is long.

Its only possible to think positivity lasts and negativity dies if we look at our own tiny milieu. The world of stories is big and long and deep and you can open any newspaper to drink deeply from both wells.


Thanks for the comment Playstayxian.

What you say may well be true from an ultimate perspective. What I'm discussing is a bit smaller than though, specifically the sectors of games, entertainment and technology.

Within those sectors, memetic evolution tends to have that effect. Giant-enemy-crab moments are few and far between. It's much more common to see positive material zip back and forth, whether it's Seth Priebatsch talking up SCVNGR, Peter Molyneux selling you on his latest exciting mega-project, Will Wright, Nintendo, etc.

The positive-sounding vision is the one that we want to share, get excited about and spread.


If your response is that within a microscopic culture of entrepreneurs and technocrats, people prefer positive conversations over negative, then sure, I agree. To fuel the fantasy that the world is made up of problems which can be solved by 'innovation' and the free market, then that culture needs to believe that technological progress is human progress, and that lofty promises never become over-valuation and the market growth/bubbles that follow.

I credit you with no small amount of wit by including in your examples of 'positive memetic evolution' both Peter Molyneux (whose over-promising has poisoned the game media well for Lionhead), and Nintendo, who are in total shareprice and 'mindshare' freefall after a cataclysmic 3DS launch, both highly affected by the negative conversations surrounding their products.

Tech culture is absolutely driven by positive buzz; it allows the movement of free and venture capital across risky markets. But in no way is it an essential quality of human experience; its a market mechanism we chose to be a part of, or not.

Finally, while Max might be the voice of reason in Network, I think we are also sympathetic with the people watching Beale's rants at home. Bemused, startled, but ultimately sparked by the recognition that we all trade injustice for comfort. We might only shout out the window, but its a joyous moment that unites the street.


Perhaps it's simpler: Maybe folks just like getting excited by the new and the strange. It doesn't always work out (Milo and the 3DS for example) but there's always anticipation for the next Molyneux game and the next Nintendo platform.

Players forgive failures because they *want* to be entertained and inspired. They're not that interested in the grand themes or the critique, just whether the games they see are the games for them. They want to find tribes to be a part of.

It's different from, say, politics in that people just don't care a whole lot about how just or unjust one game or idea may be in totality. It doesn't matter at all if you are correct. A Zynga player does not care at all about the supposed evil that Zynga is perpetrating on the market as a whole. So that's why raging is ultimately futile: Cow Clicker's in-joke is something that nobody who's not already in the circle of 'social games suck!' cares about. Not even those who found it randomly and just play it because they think it's neat.

On Network, it really isn't a joyous moment. It's portrayed as craziness from the get go (which is why Max closes the window rather than joining in), the base insanity of the horde. Beale's speech is very pointedly set out as that of the deranged charismatic tapping into something base in his audience. Mass madness, as Max observes in his final scene.

And how quickly it becomes corrupted.


I thought we were talking about games, entertainment and technology? But happy to follow the thought experiment:

Your description of games culture bears absolutely no relation to my lifetime of being in games culture, of knowing games people or of working in games. I've never known a gamer who isn't critical, who doesn't possess deep opinions of how games are and how they can be. So its likely to be different milieu + national contexts.

Your description of the role of anger in games bears absolutely no relation to my lifetime of experience in games. Negative and positive emotions are not polarised - ever - in relation to popular culture, art, film, music. Certainly not games. Its visible all the way through the way that some games are made, the way some people play them and the way we talk about them. Negativity is totally mainstream. It may not fit neatly in the image of those controlling the money - but that's completely irrelevant - the majority of games culture is highly critical and highly engaged in debates. The whole nature of interactivity invites a kind of critical thinking.

Of course people don't care about Zynga, but that proves nothing.

Your argument for why Cow Clicker is futile is not convincing for me, but lets say for a moment you're correct. Wouldn't it have been ignored by those already not in the circle? Why is its creator constantly surprised by its success? Why are CC t-shirts appearing in foreign television shows? Why are people actually spending money on it? Irony only extends so far.

You see, a more direct explanation is that this whole 'positivity' thesis is flawed and we react in a spectrum of ways because we are a spectrum of people. What drives positivity in tech and games culture is... the money. Human beings react in a spectrum of ways and form cultures around the spectrum.

While positivity might be a virtue for a lot of people, it is not an organising force in the way you suggest. This is just not convincing. Ideas don't survive merely because they are positive and valuable. What part of human history could bear this out, even on a surface level? Not one.

Your reading of Network is.. well, we need not extend that argument. Can we at least agree that Jensen comes off as a villan?


I also find it amusing that in my response piece at Gamasutra:


.. I also invoked Network. It seems like the film gets invoked whenever passions are raised.

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