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

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

4.2 45
by Jane McGonigal

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A visionary game designer reveals how we can harness the power of games to boost global happiness.

With 174 million gamers in the United States alone, we now live in a world where every generation will be a gamer generation. But why, Jane McGonigal asks, should games be used for escapist entertainment alone? In this groundbreaking book, she shows how we can


A visionary game designer reveals how we can harness the power of games to boost global happiness.

With 174 million gamers in the United States alone, we now live in a world where every generation will be a gamer generation. But why, Jane McGonigal asks, should games be used for escapist entertainment alone? In this groundbreaking book, she shows how we can leverage the power of games to fix what is wrong with the real world-from social problems like depression and obesity to global issues like poverty and climate change-and introduces us to cutting-edge games that are already changing the business, education, and nonprofit worlds. Written for gamers and non-gamers alike, Reality Is Broken shows that the future will belong to those who can understand, design, and play games.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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 

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.)
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)

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)

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
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Product dimensions:
5.52(w) x 8.54(h) x 0.91(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

Martin Seligman
Jane McGonigal's uncanny vision and snappy writing give all of us a plausible glimpse of a positive human future, and how gaming—of all things—will take us there. (Martin Seligman, author of Flourish and Authentic Happiness)
Carl Honore
Forget everything you know, or think you know, about online gaming. Like a blast of fresh air, Reality is Broken blows away the tired stereotypes and reminds us that the human instinct to play can be harnessed for the greater good. With a stirring blend of energy, wisdom and idealism, Jane McGonigal shows us how to start saving the world one game at a time. (Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slowness and Under Pressure)
Tim Ferriss
The path to becoming happier, improving your business, and saving the world might be one and the same: understanding how the world's best games work. Think learning about Halo can't help your life or your company? Think again. (Tim Ferriss, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek)
Jimmy Wales
Jane McGonigal's groundbreaking research offers a surprising solution to how we can build stronger communities and collaborate at extreme scales: by playing bigger and better games. And no one knows more about how to design world-changing games than McGonigal. Reality Is Broken is essential reading for anyone who wants to play a hand in inventing a better future. (Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia)
Daniel H. Pink
Reality Is Broken will both stimulate your brain and stir your soul. 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)
Tony Hsieh
The world has no shortage of creative people with interesting ideas. What it lacks are people who can apply them in ways that really make a difference, and inspire others to do the same. Jane McGonigal is the rare person who delivers on both. Once you start thinking about games as 'happiness engines', and the ways that our lives, our schools, our businesses, and our communities can become more 'gameful'—more fulfilling, more engaging, and more productive—you'll see possibilities for changing the real world that you'd never imagined. (Tony Hsieh, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Delivering Happiness and C.E.O. of Zappos.com, Inc.)
Cory Doctorow
Jane McGonigal's work has helped define a new medium, one that blends reality and fantasy and puts the lie to the idea that there is such a thing as 'fiction'—we live every story we experience and we become every game we play. Her insights in Reality Is Broken have the elegant, compact, deadly simplicity of plutonium, and the same explosive force. (Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother and co-editor, Boing Boing)
Sonja Lyubomirsky
Reality Is Broken is the most eye-opening book I read this year. With awe-inspiring expertise, clarity of thought, and engrossing writing style, Jane McGonigal cleanly exploded every misconception I've ever had about games and gaming. 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! (Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want)

Meet 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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Reality Is Broken 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
MikeUnderwood More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book Ive read in many years. Cant wait to increase my gaming habits!
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