Gamers! Uncle Sam wants you!

And so do John Bull and Johnny Canuck. Mother Europa, Germania, Hispania, and Marianne want you. Bharat Mata and PakWatan and Mao Zedong want you. Miguel Hidalgo wants you. In fact, all the nations of the world are looking to you.

Why? Because, despite our discussion of the past two posts, living on the real world is less like a poker game and rather more like an MMORPG.

Don’t know what that is? It’s a Massively Multiple On-line Role-Playing Game – a computer-based game involving numerous players.

The similarities between living successfully on the real world and an MMORPG? Countless. Like a computer- or video game, the real world presents us with abundant, but  fleeting opportunities and numerous threats converging on us from all directions, at speed. A windy period? A chance to generate renewable wind energy. But may also call for closing the storm shutters on the house. Rain? Reduces any need to irrigate crops. But soil erosion and flooding may not be far behind. Better things for better living through chemistry? True enough. Until those chemical feedstocks start finding their way into the groundwater. Thus the game of Living on the Real World is being played out at a global level, and also locally, everywhere, farmer’s field by farmer’s field, watershed by watershed, forest by forest, glacier by glacier.

Again, on the real world as in the videogame, anticipation, followed by effective, timely decisions and actions is rewarded. It’s very important to know which threats must be tackled first, and which can be postponed, Some opportunities must be seized immediately; a few others might wait. Mistakes, bad choices, and delays are punished. Losing is easier than winning. Want to be defeated? Simply do nothing. As the clock ticks, you’ll see assets decline and options reduced. Want to win? You’ve got your hands full. Not only that, both on the real world and in the MMORPG, teamwork is essential. Everyone counts.

Also, on the real world as in the videogame, as time passes, and as gamers surmount one set of challenges after another, the pace quickens and the level of difficulty jumps. On the real world, as we’ve gone from say 1 billion people to 7 billion, each one of which on average may be consuming resources at ten times of her ancestor a century earlier, and as social change had accelerated, the level of difficulty has  hit unprecedented heights. As in those MMORPG’s, life is now coming at us fast.

But there are also important differences. For one, computer games today display endless variety. You get to choose one to your liking, one that plays to your strengths. By contrast, although living on the real world allows many roles, there is one and only one game. Second, there’s no “pause” button. Feel like putting the game aside and going out for a latte? So sorry. Furthermore, lose a video game, and the next time you play you’ll be sadder but wiser. Living on the real world offers no such do-overs.

And finally, no one can sit the game out. Interested or not, gifted or not, we all have to play!

The good news? As we’ve been discussing in posts over the past few months, we have four potent tools to work with:

–          A foundation of knowledge and understanding,

–          Policy,

–          IT/social networking, and

–          Leadership.

However, there’s plenty of bad news as well. For instance, all these tools need tweaking. That foundation of knowledge and understanding? Here and there it’s more like a house of cards. Policies? Ridden with market distortions and dysfunctional subsidies. Social networking? We don’t use it to solve real-world problems so much as we use it to let our friends know we’re in Starbucks. And our leaders struggle to use their skills and experiences to advance society; they’re forced to focus first on extending their tenure in office.

Today I’m going to share these ideas in a lunchtime talk with 300-400 young people at the AMS student conference in Seattle. It’ll be interesting to hear their take on the similarities and differences between living on the real world and massively multiple-player on-line role-playing games.

The student audience is an important one. The seven billion people now living, as well as billions more in generations yet unborn, are looking to these students, and their counterparts around the world. As they go into the world as meteorologists, oceanographers, climatologists, hydrologists, and social scientists, we want them to play this living-on-the-real-world game on our behalf, and not only play it as our surrogates, but win.


But as they succeed, the rewards for them, and for us, can be truly grand.

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3 Responses to Gamers! Uncle Sam wants you!

  1. Jinni says:

    Wise words!

  2. Pingback: Got Game? Your Planet Hopes You Do

  3. Jeff says:

    Watch the student conference luncheon speech, based on this blog post, on the Ametsoc YouTube channel:

    part 1:
    part 2:

    Sometimes do-overs are possible, Bill! 🙂

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