During my desktop research and building the pillars of our CitiesNext company, I listened to Jane McGonigal’s epic TED talk from 2010 again. I would like to cite one part of the talk that will change my well-being from this moment on: “If you’re familiar with the work of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, you might know this history, which is the history of who invented games and why. Herodotus says that games, particularly dice games, were invented in the kingdom of Lydia during a time of famine.
Apparently, there was such a severe famine that the king of Lydia decided that they had to do something crazy. People were suffering. People were fighting. It was an extreme situation, they needed an extreme solution. So, according to Herodotus, they invented dice games and they set up a kingdom-wide policy: On one day, everybody would eat, and on the next day, everybody would play games. And they would be so immersed in playing the dice games because games are so engaging, and immerse us in such satisfying blissful productivity, they would ignore the fact that they had no food to eat. And then on the next day, they would play games; and on the next day, they would eat.
And according to Herodotus, they passed 18 years this way, surviving through a famine by eating on one day and playing games on the next. Now, this is exactly, I think, how we’re using games today. We’re using games to escape real-world suffering. We’re using games to get away from everything that’s broken in the real environment, everything that’s not satisfying about real life, and we’re getting what we need from games.
According to Herodotus, after 18 years the famine wasn’t getting better, so the king decided they would play one final dice game. They divided the entire kingdom in half. They played one dice game, and the winners of that game got to go on an epic adventure. They would leave Lydia, and they would go out in search of a new place to live, leaving behind just enough people to survive on the resources that were available, and hopefully to take their civilization somewhere else where they could thrive.
Recently found DNA evidence has shown that the Etruscans, who then led to the Roman Empire, actually share the same DNA as the ancient Lydians. Scientists have suggested that Herodotus’ story is actually true. And geologists have found evidence of a global cooling that lasted for nearly 20 years that could have explained the famine. They might have actually saved their culture by playing games, escaping to games for 18 years, and then been so inspired, and knew so much about how to come together with games, that they actually saved the entire civilization that way.
So, I decided, like Jane, who has become a role model character for our new venture, to feel inspired by a story about a game that changed the world 2,500 years ago. From today onwards, I’ll eat one day, and the next day I will play and then repeat this cycle until CitiesNext has turned into a sustainable business and proved that it can change the world to the better.