Games for Life?

“Anyone who sees a hurricane coming should warn others. I see a hurricane coming.

Over the next generation or two, ever larger numbers of people, hundreds of millions, will become immersed in virtual worlds and online games. While we are playing, things we used to do on the outside, in “reality,” won’t be happening anymore, or won’t be happening in the same way. You can’t pull millions of person-hours out of a society without creating an atmospheric-level event.

If it happens in a generation, I think the twenty-first century will see a social cataclysm larger than that caused by cars, radios, and TV, combined… The exodus of these people from the real world, from our normal daily life, will create a change in social climate that makes global warming look like a tempest in a teacup.”

EDWARD CASTRONOVA, Exodus to the Virtual World (paraphrased in “Reality is Broken”)

How do games work? Why are humans so drawn to games? What can they do for us in our real lives?

These are questions posed in just the first chapter of Janet McGonigal’s recently published ‘Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World‘.

On page 3…

“Games developers know better than anyone else how to inspire extreme effort and reward hard work. They know how to facilitate cooperation and collaboration at previously unimaginable scales. And they are continuously innovating new ways to motivate players to stick with harder challenges, for longer, and in much bigger groups. These crucial twenty-first-century skills can help all of us find new ways to make a deep and lasting impact on the world around us.

Game design isn’t just a technological craft. It’s a twenty-first-century way or thinking and leading, and gameplay isn’t just a pastime. It’s a twenty-first-century way of working together to accomplish real change.”


“If we take everything game developers have learned about optimising human experience and organizing collaborative communities and apply it to real life… I foresee games that reduce our stress at work and dramatically increase our career satisfaction. I foresee games that fix our educational systems. I foresee games that treat depression, obesity, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder. I foresee games that help the elderly feel engaged and socially connected. I foresee games that raise rates of democratic participation. I foresee games that tackle global-scale problems like climate change and poverty. In short, I foresee games that augment our most essential human capabilities – to be happy, resilient, creative – and empower us to change the world in meaningful ways… Such games are already coming into existence.”

“We need to build hybrid industries and unconventional partnerships, so that game researchers and game designers and game developers can work with engineers and architects and policy makers and executives of all kinds to harness the power of games.

Finally but most importantly, we all need to develop our core game competencies so we can take an active role in changing our lives and enabling the future.”

I’ve observed family and friends of all ages engrossed (?obsessed) with game playing for as long as I can remember. I’ve even experienced it myself. Confession time: I was so engrossed in playing a game that I forgot to pick my kids up from school – they’ve never let me forget and that was over 15 years ago! However, it was a very powerful experience – absorption in a strategy game removing all sense of time or responsibility from my mind, complete focus on an alternate reality. I don’t doubt the potential power of games…

For some time I’ve been pondering how to harness the gaming phenomenon to create positive outcomes and, in particular, its potential to improve health. I have been observing efforts such as Games for Health with interest. Now this book raises the possibility of the application of gaming to any/all facets of our lives. Where will it end? Is this a good direction?

Amusingly, my youngest son has proposed a new method to promote a fairer distribution of chores in our house – using Chore Wars to gain experience points, treasure etc as rewards for competing ‘adventures’ (aka chores). That’s a great idea if all siblings are prepared to compete to win, but unfortunately for him his brothers quietly smile and are very happy to lose this particular game:) Close, but no cigar!