On the most recent episode of the Colbert Report, faux conservative, Stephen Colbert, interviewed game developer and author, Jane McGonigal, PhD, about her new book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. McGonigal made the case that certain skills required to play video games can be utilized in reality, can be positive for society, and may even make the world a better place.
The interview began with the oft-repeated mock surprise that McGonigal was indeed a gamer AND a female, and then moved onto jokes suggesting that most online gamers are really just “fifteen year-old boy[s] in [their] underwear” and that gaming is the sanctuary of choice for socially awkward high-school males. McGonigal quickly debunked some of these statements by offering statistics that may be surprising to some: 40% of gamers are female, 94% of girls under 18 play video games, and currently, there are 500 million gamers worldwide devoting 3 billion online hours a week to their craft.
Surprisingly, McGonigal believes that not enough people in the world play video games. Her goal? To increase the number of gamers in the world to 3 billion and their cumulative play time to 21 billion hours a week.
“There’s a big misconception about games, that they’re a waste of time. But 10 years of scientific research show that playing games is actually the most productive thing you can actually do, more productive than most of what we spend doing at work, school.”
McGonigal’s thesis stems from the premise that video games require a player to be motivated, optimistic, team-oriented, and resilient. Further, even a short gaming session using a powerful avatar gives players an instant confidence boost for 24 hours, and increases their optimism and willingness to tackle a difficult situation, including flirting with someone more attractive(!). The author explained these concepts in more detail at her very interesting TED 2010 presentation and broke down the plusses of gaming into four acquired talents: 1) urgent optimism, 2) constructing a social fabric, 3) blissful productivity, and 4) epic meaning. McGonigal believes that these benefits can and should be harnessed for the greater good.
To prove that gaming can offer philanthropic benefits, McGonigal referred to Urgent Evoke, a game she herself developed for those living in Sub-Saharan Africa. In this online game, players are required to address pressing issues in impoverished communities. To do this, the game encourages players to be entrepreneurial and take a proactive role in his or her country’s economic recovery. The ultimate goal is to empower gamers to develop creative solutions for their society’s problems.
Consistent with her presentation at TED 2010, the Reality Is Broken author also asserted to Mr. Colbert that that online collaboration en masse may conjure enough brain power from a large number of gamers to tackle problems on a massive scale, such as world hunger, climate change, or even a cure for cancer. Intrigued? Check out the full interview here:
The premise may seem gimmicky and provocative to some, especially in a climate in which gaming is often singled out as being responsible for all the evils of the world (i.e. increasing gun violence and childhood obesity rates). Nonetheless, it’s definitely a theory gamers could easily get behind and support and McGonigal should be commended for utilizing video games in a positive way.
Do you agree that gaming could effect positive global change for mankind?