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

November 18, 2013 - Comment

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

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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 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.

Practical Advice for Gamers by Jane McGonigal

Reality is Broken explains the science behind why games are good for us–why they make us happier, more creative, more resilient, and better able to lead others in world-changing efforts.

But some games are better for us than others, and there is too much of a good thing.

Here are a few secrets that aren’t in the book to help you (or the gamer in your life) get the most positive impact from playing games.

This practical advice–5 key quidelines, plus 2 quick rules–is scientifically backed, and it can be summed up in a single sentence:

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.

1. Don’t play more than 21 hours a week.

Studies show that games benefit us mentally and emotionally when we play up to 3 hours a day, or 21 hours a week. (In extremely stressful circumstances–such as serving in the military during war-time–research shows that gamers can benefit from as many as 28 hours a week.) But for virtually everyone else, whenever you play more than 21 hours a week, the benefits of gaming start to decline sharply. By the time you’re spending 40 hours or more a week playing games, the psychological benefits of playing games have disappeared entirely–and are replaced with negative impacts on your physical health, relationships, and real-life goals. So always strive to keep your gaming in the sweet spot: 7–21 hours a week.

2. Playing with real-life friends and family is better than playing alone all the time, or with strangers.

Gaming strengthens your social bonds and builds trust, two key factors in any positive relationship. And the more positive relationships you have in real life, the happier, healthier and more successful you are.

You can get mental and emotional benefits from single-player games, or by playing with strangers online–but to really unlock the power of games, it’s important to play them with people you really know and like as often as possible.

A handy rule-of-thumb: try to make half of your gaming social. If you play 10 hours a week, try to play face-to-face with real-life friends or family for at least 5 of those hours.

(And if you’re not a gamer yourself–but you have a family member who plays games all the time, it would do you both good to play together–even if you think you don’t like games!)

3. Playing face-to-face with friends and family beats playing with them online.

If you’re in the same physical space, you’ll supercharge both the positive emotional impacts and the social bonding.

Many of the benefits of games are derived from the way they make us feel–and all positive emotions are heightened by face-to-face interaction.

Plus, research shows that social ties are strengthened much more when we play games in the same room than when we play games together online.

Multi-player games are great for this. But single-player works too! You can get all the same benefits by taking turns at a single-player game, helping and cheering each other on.

4. Cooperative gameplay, overall, has more benefits than competitive gameplay.

Studies show that cooperative gameplay lifts our mood longer, and strengthens our friendships more, than competing against each other.

Cooperative gameplay also makes us more likely to help someone in real life, and better collaborators at work–boosting our real-world likeability and chances for success.

Competition has its place, too, of course–we learn to trust others more when we compete against them. But if we spend all our time competing with others, we miss out on the special benefits of co-op play. So when you’re gaming with others, be sure to check to see if there are co-op missions or a co-op mode available. An hour of co-op a week goes a long way. (Find great co-op games for every platform, and a family-friendly list too, at Co-Optimus, the best online resource for co-op gaming.)

5. Creative games have special positive impacts.

Many games encourage or even require players to design and create as part of the gameplay process–for example: Spore, Little Big Planet, and Minecraft; the Halo level designer and the Guitar Hero song creator. These games have been shown to build up players’ sense of creative agency–and they make us more likely to create something outside of the game. If you want to really build up your own creative powers, creative games are a great place to start.

Of course, you can always take the next creative step–and start making your own games. If you’ve never made a game, it’s easier than you think–and there are some great books to help you get started.

2 Other Important Rules:

* 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.

If you feel strongly about violence, look to games in other genres–there’s no shortage of amazing sports, music, racing, puzzle, role-playing, casual, strategy and adventure games.

*Any game that makes you feel bad is no longer a good game for you to play.

This should be obvious, but sometimes we get so caught up in our games that we forget they’re supposed to be fun.

If you find yourself feeling really upset when you lose a game, or if you’re fighting with friends or strangers when you play–you’re too invested. Switch to a different game for a while, a game that has “lower stakes” for you personally.

Or, especially if you play with strangers online, you might find yourself surrounded by other players who say things that make you uncomfortable–or who just generally act like jerks. Their behavior will actually make it harder for you to get the positive benefits of games–so don’t waste your time playing with a community that gets you down.

Meanwhile, if you start to wonder if you’re spending too much time on a particular game – maybe you’re starting to feel just a tiny bit addicted–keep track of your gaming hours for one week. Make sure they add up to less than 21 hours! And you may want to limit yourself to even fewer for a little while if you’re feeling too much “gamer regret.”

Comments

Mortimer Duke says:

Well written, enthusiastic, overpromised, but great McGonigal has written a fun and readable book. She has found a niche here — the idea that video games express our best selves — and her enthusiasm on the subject is downright infectious. I kept thinking that she is one of those people in the center of her social network. One of those people that convinces her friends to get out of the house and try new, quirky, interesting things. She makes life fun by making it a game. It’s nearly impossible not to get caught up in her enthusiasm.There are two sides to this enthusiasm. First of all, she has managed to convince people, on a grand scale, that video games can be a force for good. She has actually gone out and done things to reform the way we think about video games by creating ones that tap the potential to be useful in the world. She and game designers like her may well be a force that sees this grand idea through to the end.On the other hand, there’s a nagging feeling (the devil on my shoulder) that…

Gigawood says:

Perfectly captures the depth of engagement games provide Having been around computers and games since I was 2, and having played online games from the start when I was 13, I can say that Jane McGonigal’s description of the online world today’s kids are growing up with is extremely accurate. When I sat down to write what soft skills I’ve picked up from all my years playing online games, I came up with a rather exhaustive list. It’s astounding, regardless of the genre played (FPS, like Halo, MMOs like World of Warcraft).Why do we find games so engaging, so engrossing? Many schools, businesses and the like are blaming ‘addiction’ to games for people tuning out. It goes far, far beyond simple ‘addiction’ (though problems do exist). Jane goes to great lengths to EXPLAIN the concepts of engagement this ‘video game addiction’ really consists of – and that schools, businesses and the greater community can and SHOULD learn from such an efficient, accessible use of these concepts to improve the quality of life for everyone in…

Ralph Loizzo "Mensan, Mason, and Technologica... says:

Heady philosophical topics packaged in an engrossing, captivating, easy to read book I encourage anyone who is interested in playing games, whether they be board, video, MMORPGs, or alternative reality games in general (ARGS), to read this book.I have listened to the author speak, and have participated in a few games of her design, and have always been fascinated by her passion for analyzing the effects of games on its participants and society. She is a scientist of the next generation. As our world becomes smaller and our communities larger, we are beginning to see things in a new world view. Whether your particular political leanings are left or right makes no difference, for how we handle these problems are what needs debate.Dr. Jane McGonigal recognizes the importance of some of these world issues, and creates unique opportunities to explore solutions in a “game-world”. By doing so, we tend to be more focused on fixing problems in a communal sense, and we let go of our own personal prejudices and faults in order to work together for…

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