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Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World Reprint Edition
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"McGonigal proposes a fascinating and provocative, if troubling, manifesto that adds to our understanding of the appeal and potential power of digital games. . . . McGonigal is a clear, methodical writer, and her ideas are well argued. Assertions are backed by countless psychological studies." --The Boston Globe
"Once you read this remarkable book, you'll never look at games--or yourself--quite the same way." --Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind
"Jane McGonigal is worth hearing out--her point in this provocative manifesto is that the energy and devotion that gamers pour into video games is a powerful force and that we are fools if we fail to harness it. . . . McGonigal marshals convincing evidence in smart and snappy prose, delivered in an old-fashioned book for techno-peasants such as me." --Janice P. Nimura, Los Angeles Times
"Reality is Broken is a compelling exploration of why playing games makes us feel so good, and why, far from being a distraction from reality, technology-led games are increasingly providing solutions to our daily dissatisfactions. . . . Despite her expertise, McGonigal's book is never overly technical, and as with a good computer game, anyone, regardless of gaming experience, is likely to get sucked in." --New Scientist
"Powerful and provocative . . . McGonigal makes a persuasive case that games have a lot to teach us about how to make our lives, and the world, better." --San Jose Mercury News
"Jane McGonigal's insights have the elegant, compact, deadly simplicity of plutonium, and the same explosive force." --Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother
About the Author
World-renowned game designer and futurist Jane McGonigal, PhD. takes play seriously. McGonigal is the Director of Game Research and Development at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California, where she earned Harvard Business Review honors for "Top 20 Breakthrough Ideas of 2008" for her work on the future of games. Her work has been featured in The Economist, Wired, and The New York Times hailed her as one of the 100 most creative people in business. She has been a featured speaker at TED, South by Southwest Interactive, the Game Developers Conference, ETech, and the Web 2.0 Summit, as well as appearing at The New Yorker Conference. Born in Philadelphia in 1977 and raised in New York, Jane now lives in San Francisco with her husband.
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I met the author at the BCX Disrupt Conference a few weeks ago, and was struck by the importance of her insights. This is the first book I have reviewed that is 6 years old, but I feel it is so important that people be introduced to its ideas, that I have broken with my 18-year tradition of only reviewing the best of the latest.
“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? Imagine a near future in which most of the real world works more like a game,” author Jane McGonigal asks.
When many people think of games, what comes to mind is wasting time on activities unworthy of their time and attention. Consider how negatively we talk of games: “Don’t play games with me.” “This isn’t a game!” Hardly the stuff most likely to shape the future, solve the most vexing problems facing humanity, and correct a ‘broken’ reality.
Gamers work hard at games: they invest time and effort, they overcome challenges and respond to failure by trying harder. They enthusiastically invest their best efforts in the game with no thought of extrinsic reward.
Game developers clearly know better than almost anyone else how to inspire extreme effort, and facilitate cooperation and collaboration. They seem to continuously find new ways to motivate players to stick with harder challenges, for longer, and in much bigger groups.
“These crucial twenty-first-century skills can help all of us find new ways to make a deep and lasting impact on the world around us,” McGonigal asserts. “Instead of providing gamers with better and more immersive alternatives to reality, I want all of us to be responsible for providing the world at large with a better and more immersive reality.”
I want to focus on just one aspect McGonigal deals with – the world of work.
What exactly is a game? All games have four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.
The goal is the outcome that players will work to achieve. In golf the goal is to get a small ball into a distant hole with fewer strokes than other players. Games have rules that place limitations on how players can achieve the goal, so that players have to be skilled, sometimes creative and strategic.
Games all have feedback systems, so players know how close they are to achieving the goal, and are tacitly promised that the goal is definitely achievable. This provides motivation to keep playing.
And games are voluntary, so participation is a sign that you knowingly and willingly accept the goal, the rules, and the feedback.
The philosopher, Bernard Suits explained playing a game as “the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.”
In the real world if you wanted to put a little ball in a small hole far away, you would pick it up with your hand and carry it to the hole, and drop it in. Compare the ease of doing that with playing a game of golf! When you play Scrabble, your goal is to spell out long and interesting words with lettered tiles. In the real world we have a name for an easy version of this kind of activity- it’s called typing.
“Compared with games, reality is too easy. Games challenge us with voluntary obstacles and help us put our personal strengths to better use,” explains the author.
In the definition of a game there is nothing about winning, because this is not a necessary condition. In so many games all but one player (or team) must lose; and in most of the online games, you are guaranteed to lose, because if you win once, the game simply gets harder. A good quality game keeps you at the edge between winning and losing - so you continue playing.
The feedback in online games is clear, instant and graphic.
All these factors, game designers and psychologists know, keep us working to the very limits of our ability, in what is called the ‘flow’ state.
Games make people happy which is why we engage. This is because good games are hard work that we choose for ourselves. Almost nothing makes us happier than good, hard work.
“All of the neurological and physiological systems that underlie happiness—our attention systems, our reward centre, our motivation systems, our emotion and memory centres—are fully activated by gameplay,” McGonigal points out. In this state of happiness, we think better, are more positive, make social connections, and build personal strengths.
The ability of digitally-constructed games to have exactly the right effect on people is easier than many other games, but not impossible, which is why so many non-digital games are so satisfying.
When we choose not to exert ourselves at work, it’s usually because it is not the right work, at the right time, for the right person. Consider what a boost to global net happiness and prosperity could be achieved, if we could positively activate the minds and bodies of hundreds of millions of people, by offering them better, hard work.
Quality video games involve many types of work. There is high-stakes work, like saving the world, which is challenging and calls on our cognitive faculties. But there is also completely predictable and monotonous, busywork, which players can choose because it helps them feel contented, and productive. There is discovery work that makes us feel confident, powerful, and motivated. And there is hard, creative work where we can make meaningful decisions that make us feel proud of what we have achieved.
Computer and video games today offer the possibility of teamwork across large groups of people, emphasizing collaboration, cooperation, and contributions not possible in the past.
Some games demand physical work, which raises our heartbeat, gets us breathing harder, and our glands to sweat.
It is not unimaginable that real work can have the same effect on people as work in the world of games.
Compared with games, reality is so unproductive. I often ask clients to evaluate how much of their staff’s capability, that they are paying for, is delivered. I call what they are not getting, the ‘Thank God it’s Friday’ tax. Most of those who do this exercise realise how much ‘tax’ they are paying.
In the world today there are literally, hundreds of millions of adults who voluntarily and enthusiastically play computer or video games 13 hours a week, and tens of millions who play 45 hours a week!
Try this simple thought experiment: What would happen in your workplace is you could apply just some of the insights from gaming? When we’re playing a well-designed game, failure doesn’t disappoint us, and people work hard and love even mundane tasks…
And McGonigal has many more profound insights that I didn’t have space to share. Read this book – it is paradigm-shifting.
Readability Light ---+- Serious
Insights High +---- Low
Practical High ---+- Low
*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy, and is the author of the recently released ‘Executive Update.
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 good game is much more satisfying than Real Life in many ways- especially since it has a guarantee of progress: if one does the "right" thing, one makes progress in the game.
Unfortunately, this is not as true of actual life.
Now- to some extent, we can make aspects of Real Life into a game: this can be really helpful in certain areas, such as housekeeping. It might also be a help for clever managers who want to inspire/give incentives to their workers. Basically- when a piece of work is complicated, long-lasting, and with no guaranteed reward for doing it- we're not inclined to throw heart and soul into it. That's just natural. However- treating it more like a game- with clear rewards at specified and clear points, each goal of which is manageable... well, that's different!
At this point, I play "Glitch" almost every day. I like it because while the game sets some goals, I can set others, and every time I play I make at least some progress to one or more goals. This is so much more satisfying than Real Life! Nonetheless, it palls, so most days i spend about 30 min on it- which works out pretty well.
When everything else in my life is frustrating and difficult, though- it's lovely to go to a game and BE EFFECTIVE.