“Reality Is Broken”: How Gaming Can Be Beneficial

A game is an opportunity to focus our energy, with relentless optimism, at something we’re good at (or getting better at) and enjoy. In other words, gameplay is the direct emotional opposite of depression. Jane McGonigal, author of Reality Is Broken

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World is the title of award-winning game designer Jane McGonigal‘s 2011 book in which “she shows how we can leverage the power of games to fix what is wrong with the real world.” This includes not only “global issues like poverty and climate change” but also more personal issues such as depression and obesity.

As Booklist states“People who spend hours playing video or online games are often maligned for ‘wasting their time’ or ‘not living in the real world,’ but McGonigal argues persuasively and passionately against this notion in her eminently effective examination of why games are important.”

“If you are a gamer,” states McGonigal, “it’s time to get over any regret you might feel about spending so much time playing games. You have not been wasting your time.”

In McGonigal’s words, as told to interviewer Daniel Terdiman, CNET, “The book presents research that suggests that how we feel in games can spill over into our real lives–the confidence, the optimism, our willingness to help others. I write about why games make us more likable to others, and how they make us more likely to stretch outside our social comfort zone in ways that can make our real social networks stronger.”

“The central thesis of the book,” reports reviewer Jamie Madigan, PsychologyOfGames, “is that reality –that is, everything that’s NOT a game– is inferior to games and we can learn a lot about how to make reality better by looking at what makes games so wonderful.”

Madigan reviewed Reality Is Broken, she says, “because McGonigal does what I do: she examines the intersection of psychology and video games. Only where I tend to look at the larger world and apply theories about human behavior to explain game design and player behaviors, she does the inverse by starting at maxims of game design and player desires to understand how we do things in the real world.” She describes McGonigal “as part cheerleader, part social scientist, part entrepreneur, and part that crazy lady in the downtown L.A. parking lot that would always throw pigeons at me.”

On her Amazon book page McGonigal offers practical advice to gamers that’s backed up by scientific research—five key quidelines and two quick rules. She summarizes the key ones this way:

  • Play games you enjoy no more than 21 hours a week;
  • Face-to-face with friends and family as often as you can;
  • And in co-operative or creator modes whenever possible.

The two extra “quick rules” are as follows:

  • You can get all of the benefits of a good game without realistic violence–you (or your kids) don’t have to play games with guns or gore. 
  • Any game that makes you feel bad is no longer a good game for you to play.

Her popular TED talks can be found here and here.

Selected Reviews of Reality Is Broken

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want: “If you thought that games are for kids, that games are squandered time, or that games are dangerously isolating, addictive, unproductive, and escapist, you are in for a giant surprise!”

Michael Andersen, Wired: “Reading this book about happiness feels good. Don’t be surprised if you catch yourself grinning from ear to ear a few times each chapter.”

Publishers Weekly: “As addictive as Tetris, this penetrating, entertaining look into gaming culture is a vibrant mix of technology, psychology & sociology, told with the vision of a futurist & the deft touch of a storyteller.”

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