Posts Tagged ‘reality is broken’

Just a final thought on Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken (from my previous post), that she presents wonderful thoughts on the use of games—or, on the efforts spent playing games to be put toward solving societal problems.

However, one of her fundamental positions that I can’t agree with tends to be her convenient positioning of games as “better” than reality. It’s there in the title of her book, and chapter after chapter explaining why gamers are drawn to games because they offer a better, more rewarding, more satisfying experience than reality itself. As McGonigal writes:

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

As she goes on, games are able to provide that sense of “awe” often lacking in reality. Awe, or “the orgasm of positive emotions,” as it’s referred to, is a wonderful, powerful sensation… but I reject her pitch that games are better able to instill awe within us than can reality. Or that reality is too banal to ever compete with the environments, interaction, and risk/reward systems found within games.

Again, I find it simply too convenient for McGonigal to take this position. Her book posits that games are more compelling than reality, so why not leverage them to better reality.

However, I feel, that’s just one side of the Einsteinian equation—that “there are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle.”

Saccharine, trite, I’ll grant, but I still adhere to the opposite side of this equation, that “The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

My current class in the MCDM program is titled, “Gaming, Virtual Worlds and Communication.” It’s rewarding—where else I can I learn about the rate of fire in Halo 2’s sniper rifle as part of a discussion on game balance? Or test out the Kinect during a look at usability?

It also gave me a chance to read Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken—a book I was interested in picking up already, and was now assigned.

The premise of the book is pragmatic optimism—essentially, that the combined effort of gamers can be beneficially applied to personal or communal needs for the betterment of our society. Which is a good thing.

The book entered our class discussion, as we looked at “serious games.” That’s the somewhat unfortunate (or at least dry) moniker for games with a practical point: Learning games (the much beloved Oregon Trail, for example). Games that raise awareness (Dying for Darfur) or for charity. Commercial games played intrinsically for fun sell far better than serious games; yet, as McGonigal proselytizes, we need to better harness the power of games to further our society.

There’s a slight disconnect here, but one that I think can be breached. Serious games have a reputation for being boring, even preachy. Deservedly so or not, their gameplay is simply not compelling enough to draw sufficient players. These players are instead playing Call of Duty, Angry Birds, or—as the example in her book, Halo 3; their gameplay is essentially untapped effort (as compared to serious games).

The trap is thinking that a serious game can ever be built from scratch with the express purpose of becoming a blockbuster. Instead, I believe that agents of good (charities, local governments, etc.) need to look toward already successful games to then connect with societal benefits.

In the book, Halo 3 is a cited example, of players finally reaching a combined 10 billion enemy kills. And that’s with millions of players; what if all 6 billion people in the world worked together, one player asked—imagine how many kills they could achieve then! McGonigal instead asks, imagine if those millions of gamers worked together, but instead of pursuing kills were putting their efforts toward something greater (fighting cancer, or the like—I’m taking liberties with her exact examples, but in the spirit of her message).

Again, I don’t feel that commercial games and serious games these need to be mutually exclusive. Halo 3 players revel in their accomplishments, and they are mighty in number. But these same players are not likely to switch over to a serious game and expend their same efforts there, not even with a greater real-world goal. So why not take a successful game like Halo and find a way for player efforts already underway, such as kills, etc., applied toward real world goals? (The “how” this is accomplished remains undefined here, admittedly rendering my idea mere optimism.)

This would harness the players’ efforts in a realistic way, and work to continue the longevity and popularity of a game—if the players understood their efforts now had both in-game and real-world significance.