I signed up for Ada Lovelace Day, a day dedicated to celebrating the contributions of women in technology. Ada herself was the first programmer – she was writing code in the 1800’s – well before the advent of computers. Huh? I know, she seems like quite the remarkable lady.

One of the legacies of this incredible achievement is a day dedicated to her (today), where bloggers (such as myself) write a post about a woman in technology they admire. My choice is Jane McGonigal, games designer.


And by game, I don’t mean yahtzee – I mean immersive, alternate-reality style games. The kind that can fuck with your head and world, turn them upside down, and put them back together with some perspective. The kind that can harness a playful spirit to tackle global issues.

I must confess I don’t know a whole lot about her, but I admire the way she can skirt through viral marketing memes (such as ‘The Lost Ring a game created last year for McDonald’s, that was a tie-in for the Olympics), to harness gaming to explore complex and pressing issues, such as a world post-oil (World Without Oil). This article at Salon has a pretty good explanation.

Some thoughts:

By applying problem and puzzle solving skills, and being fun and compelling, games can make onerous tasks pleasurable, and individuals on teams can put their energies towards a collective goal.

Some of these immmersive ‘Alternate Reality Games’ play with, and think about, reality in ways we’re all entitled to, but rarely do.

McGonigal’s paper ‘This is not a game’ is about immersive gaming, in which she “intend

[s] to show that immersive gaming is actually one of the first applications poised to harness the increasingly widespread penetration and convergence of network technologies for collective social and poltical action.” Go back and read that sentence again. Then think about it. Then do something about it.

I first heard her name from my friend Geordie, when we were working at summer camp and designing ‘The Odyssey’, an immersive alternate-reality questgame for campers. Participants went from being woken up terrified, to implementing collective problem solving, to feeling a collective and individual swell of pride and accomplishment from solving some fairly simple tasks in a very elaborate set-up. Geordie is still designing games and is heavily influenced by McGonigal. I’m looking forward to our next collaboration.

Committing myself to Ada Lovelace Day compelled me to do some research on Jane McGonigal. That’s been a gift – the more I read, the more I like.

In a tangential, yet related development, yesterday I submitted a proposal to my HR department for a workshop in Advanced Rock-Paper-Scissors Strategy. Rock-Paper-Scissors is an incredible game once you start looking into it. I suggest you do, at the World RPS website.

Final note: I’ve really just scratched the surface on Jane and her work in blurring the lines of reality, game, fun, work, technology, collectivity, discovery, and adventure, but I encourage you to do some research yourself. And also to keep the gaming spirit alive, and ready for a call-to-action, I suggest practicing up a little gaming of your own – if you’re at a loss may I suggest a little Rock Paper Scissors?

And last, but certainly not least, go to the Finding Ada website and check out some of the other posts on women in technology. See other posts in handy map form here.

UPDATE: Wonderland blog also did an Ada Lovelace Day post on Jane. Dancers: don’t miss the link to the Top Secret Dance Off.

UPDATEUPDATE: Mental Floss drops a little more knowledge on Ada Lovelace and her day.