So… We Can Save the World?
I love games, especially video games. They make me happy. They enable my escapism. They make me feel like I’ve accomplished something when I finish one. Wouldn’t it be great if real life felt like that? Jane McGonigal seems to think it can. In her book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, she asserts that we as gamers are not wasting our time playing games (I knew it!) and that we can change the way this entire funky planet functions.
If you don’t know who Jane McGonical is, she’s a veteran game designer, both for video games and those “real life” games that people play, like…with their bodies and such. She’s been a keynote speaker and places like PAX East and SXSW.
I foresee games that make us wake up in the morning and feel thrilled to start our day. I forsee games that reduce our stress at work and dramatically increase our career satisfaction. I foresee games that fix our educational systems. I foresee games that treat depression, obesity, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder. I foresee games that help the elderly feel engaged and socially connected. I forsee games that raise rates of democratic participation. I foresee games that tackle global-scale problems like climate change and poverty. In short, I foresee games that augment our most essential human capabilities – to be happy, resilient, creative – and empower us to change the world in meaningful ways.
That is quite a bit that Jane McGonical sees regarding games. It seems like a lot to ask, to change the world with them. The very idea of it had never occurred to me. It probably hadn’t occurred to most gamers, even though most gamers have somehow managed to develop the kinds of skills and community ties that would be incredibly important in changing the world around us. Give us a mission and we’ll accomplish it. Gamers know how to rally a whole community. It doesn’t matter that the community is their guild in World of Warcraft or their buddies on a game social forum.
She may sound very harmonic convergence and peace and love and all on occasion in her book, but McGonigal has a point. And a practical one at that. Admittedly, dreaming of a scenario in which all 6 billion people on the planet come together to accomplish a goal is a lofty aspiration, but picturing it sure does make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Maybe it’s possible. More than that, maybe we as gamers will be the ones that have the skills to make it happen.
If you like gaming, I recommend reading or at the very least skimming this book (if you can put down your game long enough). If nothing else you will finish it with a sense of pride in your hobby (surely less shame) and maybe a slight shift in the way you view some things about life in general. Maybe everything can be a game, and maybe eventually we can all get achievements that really matter.