Gamers Will Save Our Economy (Part 8)

Compared to the game world reality is broken. Reality isn’t engineered to maximize our potential. It’s high time we start applying the lessons of games to the design of our everyday lives. These are the words of someone who is on a mission.

Jane McGonigal is the game designer who is on a special mission to change the world. In a previous article I have written about her quest to design games that matter and about six months ago I had the opportunity to do a One-Minute-Interview with her. The topic of the interview is positive impact and it turns out to be the tagline of her book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.

According to McGonigal, every game we play impacts our real life in a positive way because:

  • Games increase our optimism and our sense of ambition as we set higher goals for ourselves in real life;
  • Games strengthen our social relationships as they increase the level of trust among players;
  • Games give us a feeling of  awe and wonder which makes us more likely to be cooperative in real life
  • Productivity – we feel like we get more done and this brings more energy into our real life.

The premise of her book is best summarized in this quote:

The truth is this: in today’s society, computer and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy. Games are providing rewards that reality is not. They are teaching and inspiring and engaging us in ways that reality is not. They are bringing us together in ways that reality is not.

As much as this book is about game design and bringing you up-to-speed on MMORPG’s (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game), it is also about the basic mechanics of motivation and positive psychology. Throughout the book McGonigal is on a quest to find out how the ultra-motivating and addictive game mechanics can be leveraged on the level of communities and society. When we know that roughly 1 in 75 people on the planet is playing FarmVille, finding the key to leverage this volume towards a game that matters, is a big deal!

McGonigal goes to great lengths to describe examples of games to make her point. Gradually she takes the reader through 14 fixes for reality in order to be as motivating as the games we design. For each of these fixes she analyses on average 3 examples of game-designs (some are still prototypes).

There is a whole new world of emotions that is opened up in this book – just like Eskimo’s are said to have a thousand words to describe different types of snow, gamers seem to have a huge variety of emotions. For example the positive emotions of failure, the so-called fiero, naches, or even ‘pro-social’ emotions such as ‘happy embarrassment’ and ‘vicarious pride’ and the psychological benefits of teasing.

The ‘epic’ part of her work (to use a gaming word) is the fact that she not only researched and analysed crowd-sourcing mechanics and massive initiatives such as Investigate your MP’s expenses, but also started up quite some initiatives herself – these even include her version of hacking happiness by using the insights of positive psychology. On a larger scale, McGonigal specializes in ARG’s (Alternate Reality Games). One of the most impressive initiatives is World Without Oil. These are the kind of games that stick, because – even if they are so minuscule compared to Farmville, the level of social innovation that comes out of these ARG’s is enormous. Games can have a societal effect.

That is why she concludes that games aren’t leading us to the downfall of human civilization. They’re leading us to its reinvention. Like it or not: Gamers will save our economy!