An edited version of this interview originally aired on Spark (6/2/11). The full-length version was available through the Spark in the Summer podcast (3/7/11).
Gamers on this planet are currently spending more than three billion hours per week playing. That's more than 500 million people in all parts of the globe, and many of them spend every spare moment possible in these virtual realms. It's a pursuit that is often dismissed as an escapist waste of time. But Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken, says we should consider shifting the way we view game culture, because those hours and that brain power are precious resources we can apply to solving real-world problems.
McGonigal is a world-renowned game designer, game activist and author. Through her extensive research, she has determined that gaming (in moderation) actually helps humans evolve. Games excite us, they challenge us, and they inspire us to become better people. "Games and virtual worlds are doing a better job of provoking our most powerful positive emotions and helping us build up our social relationships," McGonigal explained to Spark host Nora Young in a recent interview. As the world becomes increasingly troubling, competitive and isolating, games are offering a space for comfort, creativity, excitement and ambition — feelings "we're getting from game worlds that we're having a hard time finding in our real schools or real jobs or real life."
McGonigal argues that this is because of the inherent structure of games. Games are actually problems to be solved. Games put "unnecessary obstacles" in front of players, who must then — willingly — overcome this obstacle. McGonigal's definition makes games sound like work, and the psychological reaction to games is the same we experience in stressful situations. But because gaming is voluntary, the negative stresses actually become positive. "Instead they feel an excitement and eagerness and desire to succeed. It turns out that this is an optimal state of human being," McGonigal explained.
McGonigal believes that gaming can be applied to a number of real-life obstacles: working out, managing money, becoming an author and even bringing about world peace.
"Games today are more social, more cooperative and more about achieving goals," she said. "It's bigger than enjoyment. It's about getting what we want out of life."
Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World
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"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..."
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