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on February 27, 2011
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.
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on April 8, 2013
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).
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on March 4, 2011
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.
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on January 22, 2011
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.
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on March 5, 2011
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.

A must-read.
Five stars.
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on February 2, 2013
by Fran Ilich <fran@eyebeam.org>

This book starts by bringing into our imagination the amazing shift that is happening in the material world as millions of persons all over the map decide to step aside from it to retreat and detach by immersing themselves into the virtual world of their preference. They may forget about following the regular paths of the American Way of Life, the rags-to-riches plots that some legends argue can be found in Vegas, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Wall Street and so on. This has reached such epidemic proportions that at one point the People's Bank of China had to intervene to prevent devaluation of the Yuan because too many renmibis were being converted and invested into virtual currency (in particularly the QQ coin), which the bank called "Coins of no return". Its official comments were along the lines of the following: "Once the company gets the money that people paid for the QQ coins, they can do virtually anything with it. They can invest in real estate or the stock market, without having to return a penny. It's not just as if they are opening a bank - but the bank could possibly turn into a black hole."

In any case, McGonigal refers to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow, which holds that, by playing or enjoying herself, any given person can achieve a state of joy that can remove her from her own regular limitations and take her into an unlimited moment of creativity. More or less, this is the general idea -- and I have a hunch that we're all familiar with the general direction of this argument. She goes on to tell a story that appears in the first book of Herodotus' Histories: the Lidyans were suffering a serious food shortage that they couldn't resolve. So, they decided to spend their time playing dice. This helped them forget their sad reality for 18 years, as they were less hungry because they spent their time playing. But McGonigal believes that games of today will not only allow us to hide from the grim realities of our present (neoliberal capitalism?), but can also help us focus jointly on creative solutions.

McGonigal goes on to describe what she considers to be the four traits of any game: goals, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation. Games, she says, immerse us in an experience that has the unconscious effect of making us concentrate and achieving more synapses than usual. As a result, something that would normally be hard work ends up being less difficult because we experience it as enjoyable and fun. McGonigal also makes a point to differentiate and explain different types of work, such as high stakes work, busy work, mental work, physical work, team work, and creative work. She believes that everyone can benefit from "eustress" (good stress) in order to achieve better results: happier endings create happier subjects and so on...

One example McGonigal offers: David Sudnow wasn't having much success in his regular job as a musician; he was also addicted to the Atari game Breakout. He went on to write the first book account of a videogame, which is the classic Pilgrim in the Micro World. McGonigal uses this example to argue that depression could be a physiological indicator that the road being folowed is a bad one; depression is a way in which the body itself stops us from heading into trouble. (She also brings our attention to New Games (1977) by the New Games Foundation, as another classic texts in the field.)

McGonigal describes churches, pyramids, and other monumental institutions as social organizations that are the result of co-operative labor. She believes that games could be organizational and about life management, and that clues could be used to assign tasks.In general, she is drawn towards what could be described as "life-improvement" games, which can be played through all sorts of methods such as videogames, cards, larping, or alternative reality playing. Overall, she insists that players should feel invested in their virtual or game worlds and have long-term goals within them. Content generated from games becomes a reward in itself. This is content, she suggests, is like so many puzzle-pieces that are assembled through the co-operative labor of gaming: "Until players put a chaotic story together it doesn't really exist -it's just a web of evidence, the raw materials for a story: it's up to the players to do the actual final storytelling, which typically occurs on a wiki that ultimately represents an "official" story of the game.

Of course, McGonigal is able to draw on her own exceptional expertise, as she is the designer of an impressive amont of successful games. These include her invention of a "lost" ancient Olympic sport and the falsified history around it, which managed take on a life of its own after it was first "resurrected" at the Beijing Olympics. McGonigal was chosen as one of the "Women to Watch" who are changing industries (and the way we think) in the last issue of Entrepreneur magazine, alongside minds such as Limor Fried (of Adafruit fame) and Tara Hunt (The Whuffie Factor).

I'll close this review with what I find to be one of McGonigal's most provocative suggestions: "And finally, as the Llydians were so quick to realize, games do not rely on scarce or finite resources. We can play games endlessly, no matter how limited our resources. Moreover when we play games, we consume less. We are just starting to realize this possibility ourselves today, we are starting to question material wealth as a source of authentic happiness."

I was game to such ideas before opening this book. In my case, however, it's the result of a certain exasperation with so many trends in digital activism that seem to celebrate themselves and supercede each other in such rapid succession that the absence of any greater strategy is hardly noted.

[more reviews by the author here --> [...] ]
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on August 20, 2013
I really enjoyed hearing about the concept of gaming as a way to change society after hearing Jane McGonigal in a number of formats. Her writing style is fast, upbeat and easy to read. But her "thesis" troubles me. Here's why (I'm getting on a soapbox here): what I see in our youth is so different than what the expected outcome of gaming could be and what the author describes in her book. First of all, I did video games when I was young, one of my kids is very much into gaming, but I'm middle-aged and don't play video games anymore (though thinking about doing some of her suggested productive ones). I am not against gaming at all, but I'm a pediatrician and see many young people who are so totally obsessed with gaming to the point that that is essentially all they do. It's their life. It's starts with the little kids who can't put down mommy's iPhone while in the office (and actually walking into walls) to the teen who does nothing else. I see this day in and day out. I see many young people unable to navigate the real world because they spend so much time with their faces in their computer/phone screens that they don't realize that there's even another world out there. Despite what the author says where they are involved with other people around the world, they actually end up very rarely interacting directly with other humans, can't hold a real conversation without a keyboard. They rarely get anything close to what might be considered exercise (on the side: kids into sports rarely are obsessed with video games) and become lost when they are coming out of adolescence and to the age where they have to actually decide what they want to do with their lives. They don't know. Not at all. Many of my patients want to design video games or comics, have not a clue how to actually do that, but how many people can actually succeed at that? Most feel that because they are good at playing video games they can design the next big success. It's really sad because I see so much real potential going down the drain. There must be balance and rarely there is. What I feel the author describes is a small part of society that can be gamers and yet still function in the real world. She talks about getting satisfaction from games that you can't get in the real world. I get satisfaction in my life in many ways so maybe I just don't understand where she's coming from. I just hope what I'm seeing in our young people isn't going to translate into a dysfunctional society. Sorry for soapboxing. Maybe someone can help me to find a way to help so many of the lost gaming soles that I see come through my office.
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on January 29, 2013
Reality is Broken is an interesting, fun, read. McGonigal's practical advice and insights apply to much of every day life. The stories that are used to illustrate the advice are also supported by interesting observation and statistics that relate to everyone.

Besides, I like reading books written by authors with a good heart. I had a chance to listen to Jane McGonigal speak at the World Innovation Forum in New York City last summer. She recognizes that to solve the really big problems in life, we have to leverage our most underutilized resource - people and their brain-power. And that will only be accomplished through positive motivations inherent in games. Whether you are a gamer or not, Reality is Broken will change your view of gaming and the role that it can play in all parts of life, and in finding solutions to societal problems. It is exactly the right book for the right time.

Imagine, a book about games that is fun!
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on March 4, 2011
This is a book about games, but not just video games. Jane opens the book with the story of a simple game played thousands of years ago by an ancient civilization in order to survive. So don't think of Super Mario Bros. and Grand Theft Auto (or at least, don't think of those games alone); think of basketball and chess and tag. Think of the little games that kids make up on the spot. (I love those.) Jane's book is as much about hands and feet as it is about buttons and pixels. It's about our minds & our emotions -- and this strange urge we have to create these systems for ourselves.

I think that's important, because it's through this lens that you see how Jane's book connects to the wider world. Games are systems, and systems are everywhere. Think about systems that make energy, systems that make food, systems that make laws. Reading Jane's book, you start to see these systems differently: you start to wonder how we can change them, improve them, supplement them, and yes, game them.

I had a blast reading Reality is Broken, and it left me feeling hopeful & enthusiastic about the future. That's because it's not a book about video games, and if you ask me, it's not even solely a book about games, either. Instead, I think it's a book about the ways we work together, the ways we harness all of our talents -- or don't. Yeah: the truth is, today, we don't. We can do better, and Jane's book shows us how to begin.
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on February 26, 2012
There is a pervasive and a frequently negative perception of games as an "escapist", and a "wasteful" exercise. Nothing could be further from the truth, although as the author points out, we do have a lot to learn and improve about game design: "game design isn't a technological craft, it's a twenty-first-century way of thinking and leading". Good games are optimized to put us into a state of flow, where we are operating at the limits of our abilities - they provide feedback when we make mistakes, and they get progressively harder to help us improve. If only our real-world environments could provide more of the same! And that's exactly the point of this book: we can redesign our reality by augmenting it with social and collaborative game dynamics. This is, in fact, almost as close as we can get to "engineering happiness".

The book provides a nice framework for what makes the great games successful, and how these principles can be applied to the world around us. Well written, plenty of great and engaging examples - highly recommend it. A Nobel Peace Prize to a game designer within the next 50 years? I'll put my money on it.
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