It was Jane McGonical's opinion in 2011 that the human race was at a major tipping point. "We can stay on the same course," fleeing the real world for gaming in virtual words or "we can reverse course" and try something else entirely: "What if we decided to use everything we know about game design to fix what's wrong with reality? What if we started to live our real lives like gamers, lead our real businesses and communities like game designers, and think about solving real-world problems like computer and video game theorists?"
OK, how? McGonical wrote this book to share her thoughts and feelings about how such an admirable objective could (perhaps) be achieved. First, defining terms: She suggests there are four defining traits of a game: It has a goal, rules, a feedback system (e.g. score), and voluntary participation. I have been an avid golfer for most of my life and still play about once a week. My goal is to enjoy myself, I follow most of the rules, no longer keep score, and play willingly. According to Bernard Suits, "Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles." In golf, my obstacles include insufficient skill, natural hazards, and impatience.
McGonical identifies twelve unnecessary obstacles in the real world and suggests a how a specific gaming "fix" can overcome each. For example, years ago she coined the term "happiness hacking" which is "the experimental design practice of positive-psychology research findings into game mechanic. It's a way to make happiness activities feel significantly less hokey, and to put them in a bigger social context. Fix #10: "Compared with games, reality is hard to swallow. Games make it easier to take good advice and try out happier habits.Read more ›
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“The opposite of play isn’t work. It’s depression.” – Brian Sutton-Smith
When was the last time you leveled up? Found a power up? Got a wisdom +1? These motivate us in video games, and Jane McGonigal argues in Reality is Broken that actual reality needs more of them. Millions of people use games to escape reality – why, she asks, can’t we use games to improve reality?
McGonigal thinks games can confer an evolutionary advantage on those who play them, helping us develop our strengths, treat depression and obesity, foster collaboration, increase democratic participation, fix education, and maximize our potential as human beings. As a result, Reality is Broken is stuffed full of interesting examples and facts, and the book shines because of them.
Whether discussing poker in graveyards to remind ourselves of our own mortality; Chorewars creating quests like doing the laundry; Quest to Learn as the framework for a charter school (with among other things students teaching concepts to AI avatars as quizzes); or God games like the Sims, Black and White, and Spore fostering the long view and developing ecosystems thinking, the games she analyzes are exciting. 69% of heads of household in the US play video games, and 97% of youth; this is a resource, she argues, we need to tap.
I’m always a little nervous about these kinds of claims; they remind me of Play Pumps, the systems installed in parts of Africa in which children playing could pump water. When the children bored of the idea, women were left to turn roundabouts by hand, making their task even more laborious. That said, games also have enormous potential to change our lives for the better.
My takeaway though is optimism about humanity.Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
118 of 130 people found the following review helpful
Well written, enthusiastic, overpromised, but greatFeb. 27 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
McGonigal has written a fun and readable book. She has found a niche here -- the idea that video games express our best selves -- and her enthusiasm on the subject is downright infectious. I kept thinking that she is one of those people in the center of her social network. One of those people that convinces her friends to get out of the house and try new, quirky, interesting things. She makes life fun by making it a game. It's nearly impossible not to get caught up in her enthusiasm.
There are two sides to this enthusiasm. First of all, she has managed to convince people, on a grand scale, that video games can be a force for good. She has actually gone out and done things to reform the way we think about video games by creating ones that tap the potential to be useful in the world. She and game designers like her may well be a force that sees this grand idea through to the end.
On the other hand, there's a nagging feeling (the devil on my shoulder) that tells me that this idea is overstated and undersupported. The "science" here really doesn't (and couldn't, when it comes down to it) say that the world is better off as a direct result of video games. In short-term laboratory experiments, there are some interesting results. But the comparison groups here are what beg the question -- playing video games makes you more optimistic as compared to what? Because playing a role playing game for a few minutes makes you more confident in talking to the opposite sex immediately afterward does not mean that playing WoW for 22 hours a week is going to jazz up your sex life.
I can't help but think that what McGonigal is talking about is absolutely true for a select group of people -- her included, and perhaps other optimistic and playful individuals who like to treat life as a game -- but is overstated as a panacea for the human race.
In the end, I'm glad to have read the book, and would recommend it as a well-articulated vision of a very interesting idea, one that is certainly worth having a debate over.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Perspective Likely to Be Helpful for Non-GamersApril 8 2013
- Published on Amazon.com
I suspect my reactions to this book may be different than the majority of readers, as I assume most readers will be dedicated gamers or those who is close to someone who is a serious gamer and want to know more about it.*
First the positives about this book. I appreciate than Jane McGonigal brings a fresh perspective and intelligence to looking at games. She draws from research in a variety of quarters which often are elucidating. For example, despite reading many smart popularized books on behavioral and cognitive brain issues, I hadn't read anything about why teasing (or self-deprecating humor) is an effective way of building camaraderie. And of course, she does a good job building a long and detailed case for what games have to offer. Since that has been discussed in detail in many other reviews, I won't say much about it.
The Negatives Sometimes I felt there was too much detail, even after a simple point was made. I listened to the audio book, so I can't cite chapter and verse, but one example I remember is that she mentioned something about rock stars and reeled off a long list of stars, finishing with the line "to name a few." Well, actually, you named way more than few. I know this may sound like nitpicking, but it was indicative of an overall sense of wishing she'd make her point and move on more rather than give LOTS of examples. My lack of interest in specifics about particular games may be coming into play. Plus the fact when listening to an audio book, you can't skim effectively. So take that criticism in context to your own interests and form of "reading" this book.
Another issue I had, and one that seems to be a problem with so many books, is that she is so focused on building a case (in this case, how great games are) that she seems unwilling to seriously consider counter arguments. As if entertaining such thoughts would be dangerous to her whole thesis.
The biggest unconsidered argument and I suppose my biggest problem with the book (I'm ready to duck from gamers who are likely to be mad at me), is that she doesn't look at the deep problem of people turning to games because they are disappointed with reality. While I'm very interested in her desire to make human activities more engaging by borrowing from what is engaging about games, she doesn't address that turning to games instead of working on accepting reality is, in the long run, damaging or counter-productive--to improving our long term psycho-spiritual health. Watching lots of TV can feel good too, especially in the short run, but it tends to be a way to escape facing our reality and not moving us toward working on accepting the difficulties of being human--which I believe is the real mission/journey for all of us. I suppose that is the ultimate game.
*Well, I should qualify that I love games, but more of the board or word-games category (THE Book of Word Games is a favorite book) than video games (though I suspect based on a minor Pac-Man addiction I had for a brief while in college, I'd probably get way into them if I tried).
37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Perfectly captures the depth of engagement games provideMarch 4 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Having been around computers and games since I was 2, and having played online games from the start when I was 13, I can say that Jane McGonigal's description of the online world today's kids are growing up with is extremely accurate. When I sat down to write what soft skills I've picked up from all my years playing online games, I came up with a rather exhaustive list. It's astounding, regardless of the genre played (FPS, like Halo, MMOs like World of Warcraft).
Why do we find games so engaging, so engrossing? Many schools, businesses and the like are blaming 'addiction' to games for people tuning out. It goes far, far beyond simple 'addiction' (though problems do exist). Jane goes to great lengths to EXPLAIN the concepts of engagement this 'video game addiction' really consists of - and that schools, businesses and the greater community can and SHOULD learn from such an efficient, accessible use of these concepts to improve the quality of life for everyone in society.
This is a must read - particularly for any businessperson, teacher, parent, or gamer in the community.
61 of 73 people found the following review helpful
Heady philosophical topics packaged in an engrossing, captivating, easy to read bookJan. 22 2011
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I encourage anyone who is interested in playing games, whether they be board, video, MMORPGs, or alternative reality games in general (ARGS), to read this book.
I have listened to the author speak, and have participated in a few games of her design, and have always been fascinated by her passion for analyzing the effects of games on its participants and society. She is a scientist of the next generation. As our world becomes smaller and our communities larger, we are beginning to see things in a new world view. Whether your particular political leanings are left or right makes no difference, for how we handle these problems are what needs debate.
Dr. Jane McGonigal recognizes the importance of some of these world issues, and creates unique opportunities to explore solutions in a "game-world". By doing so, we tend to be more focused on fixing problems in a communal sense, and we let go of our own personal prejudices and faults in order to work together for individual and community fulfillment.
She is leading her own personal quest to not only reject the notion that gaming is a waste of time, but that we can learn more about ourselves and each other through gaming. She is one of the few voices who will be leading our society for its own betterment, and I can't recommend enough that everyone read this book Reality is Broken.
She pairs a child's curiosity and wonder with the intelligence and discipline of an adult, and captivates you right from the very beginning. I received my hardcover yesterday, and am currently tearing through it. This will be in my personal library forever, as I can see where I'll need to reference her research and ideas time and time again.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant; A Hope for Our Future.March 5 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Bottom line: Jane McGonigal presents an eloquent and insightful analysis of modern gaming trends and of the psychology of gaming and gamers. The largest and most daring assertion that the author makes is in the third part of her book, entitled "How Very Big Games Can Change the World."
The book's title refers to the broken nature of our motivational understanding of relationships, occupations, and responsibilities in general. Daniel Pink similarly discusses this broken phenomenon in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In the essential psychology of human motivation, Pink notes that "it's best to try to unleash the positive side of the Sawyer Effect by attempting to turn work into play- to increase the task's variety....to make it more like a game."
The future of our families, our communities, and our world will soon be in the hands of generations that are ubiquitously gamers. This fact has lead to two polar schools of thought on the subject: 1) That this trend will ultimately be the downfall of society. If people migrate from the real to the virtual, society will not be able to endure, and a degradation or collapse is imminent. 2) That this trend is the fervent hope of humanity. As people synthesize learning in the worlds of the real and the virtual, they will engage, coordinate, collaborate, and communicate in ways never before dreamed in the history of man.
The author provides very real, tangible, and quantifiable evidence that the second assertion is not only plausible, but that it is within our grasp today. This is the information age, and knowledge is power. McGonigal provides data that demonstrates how gamers are engaging, persisting, and accomplishing in ways that their non-gaming peers are not.
David Edery documents how (Changing the Game: How Video Games Are Transforming the Future of Business (paperback)) corporate America is rapidly beginning to engage this untapped potential. Modern industries are now dynamically attempting to employ real-world game dynamics into their HR programs and their employees' working environments.
Kaplan's GRE 2011 (Kaplan GRE 2011 Premier with CD-ROM (Kaplan Gre Exam Premier Live)) prep program offers their proven methodology in the guide's introductory section entitled "Play the Game." This critically-acclaimed guide series continues by detailing that "high scorers choose to....think of the test as a game- not an instrument for punishment but an opportunity for reward. And like any game, if you play it enough times, you get really good at it."
McGonical's focus in this work is to provide a "fix" for the broken nature of reality by maximizing the benefits of the engaging aspects of games. This method of engagement will enhance and improve individual and social lifestyles on a scope that is limited only by human ingenuity and imagination.