Empowerment.

The 5th Magic-Making factor of this series has the user making decisions about how to interact with the media product at their fingertips. And this, dear readers, was perhaps the most profound learning of all learnings at the 2013 Annual Dust or Magic Institute: That we've returned to the most early essentials of game play with the best of today's interactive digital media.

Let me paint you a picture with LEGOS.

Once upon a time, a parent purchased a big box of multicolored LEGO bricks of varying sizes. The lucky recipient tore open the box and spilled the many pieces onto the floor. Then alone or in the company of others, he or she set about to build something from the imagination: a town, an imaginary animal, a flying car. When done, the creation was broken apart and the process of creation began all over again.

Over the years, LEGOS became increasingly linked to blockbuster movies and televised content. The result being that what you can create now with a particular boxed set of bricks is more often than not predetermined by the manufacturer. Instead of throwing caution to the wind and letting creativity dictate the story in the bricks, the user is now obligated to follow an instruction booklet to build something specific. Upon completion, the creation earns pride of place on a shelf where it commences to collect dust until the next theme-driven box of LEGOS arrives home to replace it.

In today's most successful interactive children's media, however, choice is returned to the user, who is empowered to interact with the product in creative ways. Whether in games, online meeting places, interactive story books, educational websites, or products targeted to learning environments, the user/reader/gamer/player/learner has the power to decide once again.

Take Minecraft as an example. It's LEGOS on the screen, people! LEGOS on steroids! The environment just goes and goes and goes. The choices you can make are infinite. Within specific conditions and under game-determined potential threats, YOU get decide what you want to build, what you can build it out of, where you should build it, etc., depending on the aspect of the gaming world you venture into.

What's more, as with the original LEGOS, Minecraft can be played alone and socially. And because it's online, you don't have to be in the same room to scratch that social itch anymore.

Because here's Magic-Making Factor #6: We are social animals. Always have been. Always will be. We are social animals that love, and need, to play.

Play is something we humans do to learn and to be in community with others, and, of course, to relax. It's an essential part of growing up, but it's something we never really grow out of, if we're lucky. Our games may change as we age, and our tools may change as we develop as a species, but our need to play with others and the pleasure we derive from it never ever goes away.

Returning to Minecraft and why it Is so important as a model for interactive product developers: Minecraft is popular because it can be played socially. But it's addictive because it's empowering, and not just within the game.

"Minecrafters" can take Minecraft code, which is open-source, and create their own versions of the game. This spurs true engagement, tapped by intrinsic motivation. Users learn through play in the very best sense of the expression. Because they want to.

Serious Minecrafters are not just enjoying a little down time with friends. And they're certainly not "wasting" time in front of a screen. They are figuring out, on a technical level, such things as gaming mechanics, 3D modeling, APIs, protocol analysis, and environment integration -- all the stuff of a degree in software engineering. They're solving engineering questions by brainstorming solutions to real world questions and applying them to an imaginary world of their making. On a human level, they are gaining confidence in themselves and learning how to collaborate with others. They are tapping the foundations of the creative process, every time they play, by experimenting, testing, failing, trying again, and eventually succeeding before moving on to the next challenge.

They are constructing, one pixelated block at a time, an internal world of knowing that they will carry with them into the future.

And that is pure magic. What we should all be striving for in our tools and products.

Now, I'm off to re-think the Time Traveler Tours and Time Traveler Tales' models. I think it's about time I Level-Up!

Not convinced? Check out the video documentary above. Then let me know what you think.

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Magic-Making Factor #4
Magic-Making Factor #1-3

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