Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jane McGonigal: Reality is Broken

Jane McGonigal thinks reality is broken.  Why else would so many of us escape it to play hours and hours of video games? But among all the media hype about the bad things games supposedly to do us, have you ever considered that games might actually make us better? (I bet readers here are on board with that idea!)

I finally got the chance to read Jane's wonderfully written book Reality is Broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world.  The whole way through I felt excited and inspired.  If you've seen Jane's TED Talk, you'll have seen a summary of the main ideas behind this book.  However, the twenty minutes she has just doesn't do her ideas justice (it's easy to misunderstand the main point and pass it off as a bit kooky).  The book is (obviously) able to explain everything in much more detail, and provides many supporting research results and in-depth examples.

The first part of the book sets up how games make us happy.  Jane's take on the four defining traits of a game — goals, rules, feedback systems, and voluntary participation — show up throughout the rest of the book, as do the four intrinsic rewards available to us in games: satisfying work, the experience or hope of being successful, social connection, and meaning in the sense of becoming part of something bigger than ourselves.

Part two suggests that alternate reality games are a good way to use what we love about gaming to make our real lives better.  All the themes from the first part are applied again and again here, seemingly to great effect if you look at the success of the games outlined in these chapters.  Although it's not quite the same thing, my interest in augmented reality made this section particularly meaningful to me.  The work I've been doing lately on the cognitive benefits of AR has some overlap with the ideas here.

Finally, in part three, things get epic.  Jane talks about the kinds of things that gamers are well prepared for, like collaborating with huge numbers of people and voluntarily tackling seemingly impossible tasks. She points out that gamers can and do use these abilities to make a difference in the real world, often through reality-based gaming contexts.  In a sense, this part is about gamification, but not in the badge-adding way that Ian Bogost often laments about.  It's about truly making life more gameful to improve our own lives and the lives of everyone around us.

By the end of the book, I found myself wondering if Jane and James Paul Gee have had a chance to collaborate yet.  The latter talks about how we can apply what is good in games to learning and education.  I would love to see what these two could come up with together (perhaps along with Ian Bogost, whom Jane mentions is a good friend in the book).

In the meantime, I need to go check up on the Gameful website Jane set up and see how all the others in my areas of interest (education! augmented reality!) are doing.  If you are into games for good, you should go sign up, too!


Gail Carmichael said...

I should note that there are legitimate criticisms of the book as well, but that's not what this post is about. ;)

Anonymous said...

I read this book and was changed by it. I'd never understood the psychology of games before and didn't realize that people were working to harness that pull to participate in games as a way to create social change or improve education.

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