Friday, March 11, 2011

Games As (More Than?) Art: Reality Is Broken

This isn't a traditional Games As Art post in that it's not about a video game. Rather I'm writing about a book I recently heard about, Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal. The basic premise behind the book is that video games are good for us, they make us better people in our real lives. The website for Reality is Broken describes the book as such:
"Drawing on positive psychology, cognitive science, and sociology, Reality Is Broken uncovers how game designers have hit on core truths about what makes us happy and utilized these discoveries to astonishing effect in virtual environments. Videogames consistently provide the exhilarating rewards, stimulating challenges, and epic victories that are so often lacking in the real world. But why, McGonigal asks, should we use the power of games for escapist entertainment alone? Her research suggests that gamers are expert problem solvers and collaborators because they regularly cooperate with other players to overcome daunting virtual challenges, and she helped pioneer a fast-growing genre of games that aims to turn gameplay to socially positive ends."
In the video below McGonigal explains her premise at a recent TED talk:

Jane McGonigal speaking at TED

I won't talk about McGonigal's ideas too much given that I haven't read Reality is Broken yet, and I don't want to purport authority on something I haven't yet fully considered. A post over at Boing Boing seems to have done a good job of that. However, based on what I'm reading the core premise seems completely plausible, and is indeed confirmed by my own experiences.

Given that my parents had the good sense to buy me edutainment style games like Math Blaster and Treasure Galaxy, it seems trite to say that video games can have a positive effect on players. My problem solving and critical thinking skills were undoubtably improved by my enjoyment of video games, and not exclusively ones that were designed to promote education. There's no doubt in my mind that my gaming habits improved things like my abilities to tackle unfamiliar problems, accept failure, and retry with greater knowledge. The idea that such talents could be more effectively harnessed in the real world in ways that make us happier and solve real problems is exhilarating, nay, intoxicating.

I first heard about McGonigal's book via a recent post by Tycho over at Penny-Arcade, and an accompanying comic. While the specific example might not be the best one possible (my hours playing video games have done nothing for my plumbing skills), the point is exactly right: if I can see and understand a problem, there is a good chance I will feel capable of solving the problem. I have spent a significant proportion of my life facing new problems and solving them with the means available to me. The effect that time has had on me is not negligible, and the potential it has created/expanded is palpable.

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