More than 174 million Americans are gamers, and the average young person in the United States will spend ten thousand hours gaming by the age of twenty-one. According to world-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal, the reason for this mass exodus to virtual worlds is that videogames are increasingly fulfilling genuine human needs. In this groundbreaking exploration of the power and future of gaming, McGonigal reveals how we can use the lessons of game design to fix what is wrong with the real world.
Drawing on positive psychology, cognitive science, and sociology, Reality Is Broken uncovers how game designers have hit on core truths about what makes us happy and utilized these discoveriesto astonishing effect in virtual environments. Videogames consistently provide the exhilarating rewards, stimulating challenges, and epic victories that are so often lacking in the real world. But why, McGonigal asks, should we use the power of games for escapist entertainment alone? Her research suggests that gamers are expert problem solvers and collaborators because they regularly cooperate with other players to overcome daunting virtual challenges, and she helped pioneer a fast-growing genre of games that aims to turn gameplay to socially positive ends.
In Reality Is Broken, she reveals how these new alternate reality games are already improving the quality of our daily lives, fighting social problems such as depression and obesity, and addressing vital twenty-first-century challenges-and she forecasts the thrilling possibilities that lie ahead. She introduces us to games like World Without Oil, a simulation designed to brainstorm-and therefore avert- the challenges of a worldwide oil shortage, and Evoke, a game commissioned by the World Bank Institute that sends players on missions to address issues from poverty to climate change.
McGonigal persuasively argues that those who continue to dismiss games will be at a major disadvantage in the coming years. Gamers, on the other hand, will be able to leverage the collaborative and motivational power of games in their own lives, communities, and businesses. Written for gamers and nongamers alike, Reality Is Broken shows us that the future will belong to those who can understand, , and play games.
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While she takes pains to include physical sports, both team and individual, strategy games, abstracted contests like chess, and various sorts of individual challenges, her big interest is in massively multiplayer games. Now, I know Worlds of Warcraft and Halo or whatever are the most mammoth arts/entertainment phenomena ever in the history of the world, at least as measured in dollars—I'll make up an exaggerated statistic, but it's probably true: let's say Halo sold 10x more in its first week than the entire global print publishing industry did that entire year. That still doesn't interest me in 1) a limited computer-simulated immersive environment instead of the real physical one; or 2) inventing an identity and having it interact in limited computer-simulated ways with endless strangers' invented identities.
But isn't that what you're doing here on Goodreads? you ask. No; this is not an immersive environment, nor is Facebook or Google or anything like that; they're not designed as and cannot be taken as simulations or substitutes of the real physical world. And while my identity here is inescapably selective, probably "improved" on reality, it's not a complete fabrication; and the people I interact with are not strangers but friends, in most cases people I already know well in the real physical world. There's certainly an aspect of gameplay going on here: trying to attract a certain quantity or quality of friends, getting people to respond to what you post, following the moves of others. McGonigal points out that Foursquare does this as a kind of gameplay structure for real-world social interaction, but my experience (living in a small town) was that it encouraged a small amount of commercial interaction and nothing social (since nobody else in town used it). Still, let's say Goodreads is using gameplay structures to encourage and support the reading and discussion of books: is anyone here because they were looking for a game, or are we all here because we wanted to talk about books?
Maybe I'm weird—OK, I definitely am—but I am never going to want to play a game for its own sake. I run for exercise; I play cards to structure social interactions; I do crosswords to challenge my language skills. Just because something is a game does not make it compelling. If it's already interesting, gamifying it can improve and focus the attraction, sure. So what I wanted to read—and this is a book which, until about 2/3 of the way through, I thought McGonigal might still be aiming to write—was ideas and inspiration for adding gamelike structure, focus, and attraction to already-existing artistic, cultural, and other human activities which don't seem to be compelling enough by themselves for some people. Not wrapping them inside a game (see the quote above), but wrapping games inside them.
Other than its thesis, McGonigal's book is very loosely written and repetitive (down to a "Conclusion" which does nothing but recap the preceding chapters). It's full of interesting stuff which is well-documented in the notes, but it's so in thrall to its thesis—and depends more and more on games McGonigal herself designed and analyzed—that I began to doubt that the other research was being accurately presented.more