July 3rd, 2011

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

One of the most interesting facts from this book:

“A recent major survey of high-level executives, including chief executive officers, chief financial officers, and presidents, revealed that 70 percent of them regularly play casual computer games while working. That’s right: the vast majority of senior executives report taking daily computer game breaks that last on average between fifteen minutes and one hour.”

I wouldn’t believe this startling statistic had I not spotted one of my clients playing Solitaire during a meeting, and another playing Words With Friends while walking to a meeting. The bottom line is that everyone is playing games and in surprising numbers. Games have huge power and potential influence over our behavior.┬áBecause there has been a lot of talk in the technology and social worlds of this influence of gaming and its growth potential, and because I believe know nothing about gaming–not being a gamer myself–I decided to read the most talked book on the subject. While I am still trying to figure out gaming and how it can be used in our business as an effective tool, this book did shed some light on the appeal of games and how they can influence change:

“The real world just doesn’t offer up as easily the carefully designed pleasures, the thrilling challenges, and the powerful social bonding afforded by virtual environments. Reality doesn’t motivate us as effectively. Reality isn’t engineered to maximize our potential. Reality wasn’t designed from the bottom up to make us happy.”

Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal explores why people play games, the psychology behind good game mechanics and gives real examples of games that have the potential to change behaviors for world-wide good. I have a new appreciation for both game developers and game players after reading this book. McGonigal walks through specific games, like World of Warcraft, and talks about specific skills the gamers learn and build by playing these types of games.

Ultimately, McGonigal is saying that game play makes people happy, and when they are happy they will play more, and when they play more they will ultimately reach the defined game goal:

“There are many ways to be happy, but we cannot find happiness. No object, no event, no outcome or life circumstance can deliver real happiness to us. We have to make our own happiness–by working hard at activities that provide their own reward.”

“On the other hand, when we set out to make our own happiness, we’re focused on activity that generates intrinsic rewards–the positive emotions, personal strengths, and social connections that we build by engaging intensely with the world around us. We’re not looking for praise or payouts. The very act of what we’re doing, the enjoyment of being fully engaged, is enough.”

So McGonigal wonders if we can define a goal within a game that can fix really big world issues, and that is the impetus for the book:

“What if we decided to use everything we know about game design to fix what’s wrong with reality? What if we started to live our real lives like gamers, lead our real businesses and communities like game designers, and think about solving real-world problems like computer and video game theorists?”

“Game 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.”

With this as her premise, McGonigal walks the how games are created, defined, played and improved upon. From the basics like the four defining traits of a game:

  • A goal
  • Rules
  • A feedback system
  • Voluntary participation

To the details like scalability and social integrations. With this kind of detail and range, this book is great for a non-gamer looking to understand what impact games have and how to go about thinking about game design. I enjoyed reading and learning from McGonigal’s extensive experiences and would definitely recommend this to anyone curious about game mechanics and design.

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Link to book on Amazon