Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

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Overview

Visionary game designer Jane McGonigal reveals how we can harness the power of games to solve real-world problems and boost global happiness.

More than 174 million Americans are gamers, and the average young person in the United States will spend ten thousand hours gaming by the age of twenty-one. According to world-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal, the reason for this mass exodus to virtual worlds is that videogames are increasingly fulfilling genuine human needs. In this groundbreaking exploration of the power and future of gaming, McGonigal reveals how we can use the lessons of game design to fix what is wrong with the real world.

Drawing on positive psychology, cognitive science, and sociology, Reality Is Broken uncovers how game designers have hit on core truths about what makes us happy and utilized these discoveriesto astonishing effect in virtual environments. Videogames consistently provide the exhilarating rewards, stimulating challenges, and epic victories that are so often lacking in the real world. But why, McGonigal asks, should we use the power of games for escapist entertainment alone? Her research suggests that gamers are expert problem solvers and collaborators because they regularly cooperate with other players to overcome daunting virtual challenges, and she helped pioneer a fast-growing genre of games that aims to turn gameplay to socially positive ends.

In Reality Is Broken, she reveals how these new alternate reality games are already improving the quality of our daily lives, fighting social problems such as depression and obesity, and addressing vital twenty-first-century challenges-and she forecasts the thrilling possibilities that lie ahead. She introduces us to games like World Without Oil, a simulation designed to brainstorm-and therefore avert- the challenges of a worldwide oil shortage, and Evoke, a game commissioned by the World Bank Institute that sends players on missions to address issues from poverty to climate change.

McGonigal persuasively argues that those who continue to dismiss games will be at a major disadvantage in the coming years. Gamers, on the other hand, will be able to leverage the collaborative and motivational power of games in their own lives, communities, and businesses. Written for gamers and nongamers alike, Reality Is Broken shows us that the future will belong to those who can understand, , and play games.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As addictive as Tetris, McGonigal's penetrating, entertaining look into gaming culture is a vibrant mix of technology, psychology, and sociology, told with the vision of a futurist and the deft touch of a storyteller. For the nearly 183 million Americans who will spend an average of 13 hours a week playing games, McGonigal's book is a welcome validation of their pursuits. But for those who don't understand, or who may worry that our growing preoccupation with games is detrimental to society and culture, McGonigal argues persuasively that games are in fact improving us. "Game design isn't just technological craft," she argues, "it's a 21st Century way of thinking and leading." And games, she argues, particularly the new wave of Alternative Reality Games, are not about escapism but a powerful new form of collaboration and community building. The book moves effortlessly from Herodotus to Halo, stitching together an intellectually stimulating view of human culture past, present, and future. And while not downplaying the potential for negative consequences, such as "gamer addiction," McGonigal makes an inspiring case for the way games can both enhance our personal happiness and help society. (Jan.)
boingboing.com
McGonigal's Reality is Broken: using games to improve the world

Jane McGonigal is one of my favorite thinkers, and it's a delight to have her philosophy neatly distilled to a single book, her just-published debut Reality Is Broken. McGonigal is the leading practicioner in the use of games to motivate people to solve real problems with their lives and with the world.

McGonigal starts from the observation that games compel our attention in great sucking draughts, dropping us into flow-like states in which we compete against the machine and each other -- as well as collaborating -- with all the hours we can find. McGonigal takes us through mechanisms that make games so consuming: a series of tasks that increase in difficulty at a rate that keeps us fully engaged; failure modes that are fun and amusing; activities that feel epic in scale.

Then she walks us through the work that she and her colleagues have done in adapting these mechanisms to real-world tasks -- from the game she devised to help herself with an awful head-injury to mass-scale outdoor events that combine players and passers-by in a series of delightful encounters that make everyone feel great and want to do more.

This is the ground-work -- McGonigal wants us to see that small, voluntary modifications to the already arbitrary rules by which we conduct our affairs (social norms, conventions and laws) can make us work in ways that make us happier, that fill us with motivation, that encourage us to help and value our friends and neighbors.

Then she moves beyond the theoretical and starts to examine the still-nascent field of social participation games that have -- with varying success -- used game-like systems to motivate large groups of people in the service of social causes, giving those people a framework that allows for meaningful participation, mastery, and large-scale collaboration that plays into the things we find inherently stimulating and engaging. Projects like the Guardian's "Investigate Your MP" game that convinced thousands of people to examine and catalog hundreds of thousands of obscure documents, revealing millions of pounds' worth of irregularities in British Parliamentary expense claims. McGonigal is careful to examine the projects that have failed, and performs expert post-mortem examinations on them, providing clues so that we can avoid their missteps in the future.

Finally, there is a call to arms, a series of more ambitious examples and optimistic hopes for the future of this field. McGonigal is an infectious optimist, and it's hard not to read this book without smiling and even laughing with delight at her wonderful real-world examples.

Fundamentally, McGonigal is talking about systematizing those happy accidents where we find ourselves working in smooth concert with others, filled with satisfaction and purpose, and creating a disciplined approach to reproducing those moments on demand, when they are needed most.

The problem of working well with others is the most important one we as a species have contended with. Successful strategies for collaboration are what make religions, companies, political systems, sports teams and movements work.

As Bruce Sterling says, everything with the potential for good also has the potential for evil. It's certainly conceivable that someone might use McGonigal's techniques to motivate people to do bad things more efficiently and with greater efficacy. Though McGonigal notes how some game designs give rise to more trolling and awful trash-talking than others, overall the book is thin on this subject. I think McGongigal natural optimism would suggest that positive interactions win out over negative ones, all things being equal, and she might be right, but I think it's far from a sure thing.

Still, it'd be a pretty poor world if we abandoned every force for good because it might also be a force for evil. Altogether, Reality is Broken is a force for good: reading it leads you to believe that game-like mechanics might succeed in making us better together, in fields as diverse as conservation, education, play and health. --(Cory Doctorow)

BOOKLIST
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. She begins by disabusing the reader of some inherent prejudices and assumptions made about gamers, such as that they’re lazy and unambitious. Quite the opposite: McGonigal finds that gamers are working hard to achieve goals within the world of whatever game they are playing, whether it’s going on a quest to win attributes to enhance their in-game characters or performing tasks to get to a higher level in the game. Games inspire hard work, the setting of ambitious goals, learning from and even enjoying failure, and coming together with others for a common goal. McGonigal points out many real-world applications, including encouraging students to seek out secret assignments, setting up household chores as a challenge, even a 2009 game created by The Guardian to help uncover the excessive expenses of members of Parliament. With so many people playing games, this comprehensive, engaging study is an essential read. --(Kristine Huntley)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594202858
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 1/20/2011
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane McGonigal

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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Table of Contents

Introduction: Reality Is Broken 1

Part 1 Why Games Make Us Happy

1 What Exactly Is a Game? 19

2 The Rise of the Happiness Engineers 35

3 More Satisfying Work 52

4 Fun Failure and Better Odds of Success 64

5 Stronger Social Connectivity 77

6 Becoming a Part of Something Bigger Than Ourselves 95

Part 2 Reinventing Reality

7 The Benefits of Alternate Realities 119

8 Leveling Up in Life 146

9 Fun with Strangers 168

10 Happiness Hacking 183

Part 3 How Very Big Games Can Change the World

11 The Engagement Economy 219

12 Missions Impossible 247

13 Collaboration Superpowers 266

14 Saving the Real World Together 296

Conclusion: Reality Is Better 345

Acknowledgments 355

Appendix: How to Play 358

Notes 364

Index 379

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Interviews & Essays

Visionary game designer Jane McGonigal reveals how we can harness the power of games to solve real-world problems and boost global happiness.

by Cory Doctorow

More than 174 million Americans are gamers, and the average young person in the United States will spend ten thousand hours gaming by the age of twenty-one. According to world-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal, the reason for this mass exodus to virtual worlds is that videogames are increasingly fulfilling genuine human needs. In this groundbreaking exploration of the power and future of gaming, McGonigal reveals how we can use the lessons of game design to fix what is wrong with the real world.

Drawing on positive psychology, cognitive science, and sociology, Reality Is Broken uncovers how game designers have hit on core truths about what makes us happy and utilized these discoveriesto astonishing effect in virtual environments. Videogames consistently provide the exhilarating rewards, stimulating challenges, and epic victories that are so often lacking in the real world. But why, McGonigal asks, should we use the power of games for escapist entertainment alone? Her research suggests that gamers are expert problem solvers and collaborators because they regularly cooperate with other players to overcome daunting virtual challenges, and she helped pioneer a fast-growing genre of games that aims to turn gameplay to socially positive ends.

In Reality Is Broken, she reveals how these new alternate reality games are already improving the quality of our daily lives, fighting social problems such as depression and obesity, and addressing vital twenty-first-century challenges-and she forecasts the thrilling possibilities that lie ahead. She introduces us to games like World Without Oil, a simulation designed to brainstorm-and therefore avert- the challenges of a worldwide oil shortage, and Evoke, a game commissioned by the World Bank Institute that sends players on missions to address issues from poverty to climate change.

McGonigal persuasively argues that those who continue to dismiss games will be at a major disadvantage in the coming years. Gamers, on the other hand, will be able to leverage the collaborative and motivational power of games in their own lives, communities, and businesses. Written for gamers and nongamers alike, Reality Is Broken shows us that the future will belong to those who can understand, design, and play games.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 44 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 28, 2011

    A Must-Read for Activists, Gamers, and Anyone Invested in the Future

    Reality is Broken is a continuation of the thread of logic that McGonigal puts forward in her March 2010 TED talk and in support of her biggest dream: she wants to see a game designer win the Nobel Prize for Peace by 2032.

    The book is a concerted effort to take a reader through many of the corners of game design and to show off each area's lessons, and presents a paradigm which enables every person on earth to participate in saving the planet and the human race: Games. Gamers, she says, are humanity's secret weapon in our struggle to survive, thrive, and protect our planet.

    McGonigal talks a lot about positive psychology/happiness psychology, looking at the ways that we think we can achieve happiness vs. the ways that current science thinks we actually achieve happiness. Unsurprisingly (since she mentions it), games, especially social games that involve touch, are great for happiness. I found this section one of the most illuminating, since it covered an area not of my expertise (My formal psychology experience begins and ends with Psych 101, a class on brain chemistry).

    As a game designer, McGonigal seems to approach her world in terms of problems, and ways to make games to solve them. When she was recovering from a concussion in 2009 and unsatisfied with her rate of recovery, she designed a game called SuperBetter to help her take control of her own recovery and restore a sense of power. The game asks the recovering person to conceive of themselves as a superhero, their disease or injury as the supervillain, and to recruit allies to round out your team, identify power-ups which can help in recovery (taking a walk, doing things you love that aren't effected by the injury/disease, etc) and making a superhero to-do list of things that will let you feel good about yourself, set goals to aspire to (gather enough energy to go out and do X).

    SuperBetter let her 'gamify' the recovery process, taking control and empowering herself by applying an interpretive framework that cast herself as the heroine, possessed of the motive and means to get better.

    Not just any old game will save the world. But everyday games can still do things like let us feel powerful and accomplished. They can give us a way to stay in touch with friends or family, give an icebreaker for meeting new people, and countless other things.

    Games, McGonigal argues, are a central facet of humanity, and one of our greatest tools. Now we just need to take all of the time and energy we've put into games, evaluate and acknowledge what it's taught us, and put those skills to use on social issues, political issues, environmental issues, and more.

    If this sounds like your bag, pick up Reality is Broken.

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2012

    Game Changer

    Best book Ive read in many years. Cant wait to increase my gaming habits!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 8, 2011

    Fascinating Read

    Surreal!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2011

    it was just

    blah, seriously nothing much to read here, so i basically ended up using the book as a frisby for my dog... *yawns*

    1 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

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