Reality is Broken

Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken, believes that games can change the world and make us better, ultimately to fix reality. One would expect a world-renowned game designer, like McGonigal, to make this assumption. However, she uses current research and theories throughout the reading to make intelligent points to support her claim. As a non-gamer, I was skeptical that as a planet spending three billion hours a week playing games was beneficial. How can a virtual world satisfy genuine human needs? Can a gamer really compare the happiness in playing a game to happiness in reality? Doesn’t the regret of playing 20+ hours make the gamer feel empty and depressed? As McGonigal expresses to the non-gamers in the introduction of this book, “it’s entirely possible that you still might not become the kind of person to spend hours in front of a video game…but by reading this book, you will better understand the people who do.” And she was right.

Games are actively helping make real lives more rewarding by bringing us together while teaching, inspiring, and engaging. Through positive psychology research, McGonigal puts intrinsic rewards into four categories, which she uses as “fixes” to reality. The four categories include the following:

More Satisfying Work:
Compared with games, reality is unproductive. Games give us clearer missions and more satisfying, hands-on work.

Better Hope for Success:
Compared with games, reality is hopeless. Games eliminate our fear of failure and improve our chances for success.

Stronger Social Connectivity:
Compared with games, reality is disconnected. Games build stronger social bonds and lead to more active social networks. The more time we spend interacting within our social net­ works, the more likely we are to generate a subset of positive emotions known as “prosocial emotions.”

Epic Scale:
Compared with games, reality is trivial. Games make us a part of something bigger and give epic meaning to our actions.

These “fixes” help answer my question of how games can help fulfill genuine human needs. The intrinsic rewards are essential to happiness. But is virtual happiness comparable? McGonigal claims that prosocial emotions, or feel good emotions that are crucial to long-term happiness, are created better in online games than real-world interaction. She proves this through the explanation of happy embarrassment and vicarious pride.  However, she goes on to contradict herself, saying, “ambient sociability is hardly a substitute for real-world social interaction” and social reward is intensified through eye contact and touch. Therefore, the emotion of happiness created through games cannot be compared to real world happiness.

So, yes, playing games make gamers feel happy and have a sense of meaning. But, what about gamer regret? This sense of emptiness when gamers muse on all the other things they could have done with their time can only leave them depressed. McGongial says that the meaning provided by epic games is awe-inspiring, the single most overwhelming and gratifying positive emotion humans feel. Awe doesn’t just feel good, but it inspires us to do good. However, the “do good” provoked by games is not volunteering at a local soup kitchen, but contributing .00032% to Halo’s 10 billion kill milestone. What does that do to help the world? McGonigal even writes that the creators of Halo are very good at tricking the players to feel like their gameplay really means something. If the gamer was really “doing good” by playing, then the creators of the game would not need to trick them, nor would they feel gamer regret.

Although there are a few points made by McGonigal that I disagree with, I do feel as if my understanding for gamers and games in general has improved. She makes some very valid points and I am interested to see where the rest of the readings will take me.

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