Reality Is Broken: A book review by Bob Morris

Reality Is BrokenReality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World
Jane McGonical
The Penguin Press 2011)

How an why “people who understand the power and potential of games…will be the people who invent our future”

It was Jane McGonical’s opinion in 2011 that the human race was at a major tipping point. “We can stay on the same course,” fleeing the real world for gaming in virtual words or “we can reverse course” and try something else entirely: “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?”

OK, how? McGonical wrote this book to share her thoughts and feelings about how such an admirable objective could (perhaps) be achieved. First, defining terms: She suggests there are four defining traits of a game: It has a goal, rules, a feedback system (e.g. score), and voluntary participation. I have been an avid golfer for most of my life and still play about once a week. My goal is to enjoy myself, I follow most of the rules, no longer keep score, and play willingly. According to Bernard Suits, “Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” In golf, my obstacles include insufficient skill, natural hazards, and impatience.

McGonical identifies twelve unnecessary obstacles in the real world and suggests a how a specific gaming “fix” can overcome each. For example, years ago she coined the term “happiness hacking” which is “the experimental design practice of positive-psychology research findings into game mechanic. It’s a way to make happiness activities feel significantly less hokey, and to put them in a bigger social context. Fix #10: “Compared with games, reality is hard to swallow. Games make it easier to take good advice and try out happier habits.”

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of McGonigal’s coverage.

o The Four Defining Traits of a Game (Pages 20-22)
o How Games Provoke Positive Emotion (28-31)
o The Four Secrets to Making Our Own Happiness (45-50)
o Why Failure Makes Us Happy (65-71)
o Happy Embarrassment (83-86)
o Epic Context for Heroic Action (100-104)
o Chore Wars (120-127)
o Jetset and Day in the Cloud (150-157)
o How Alternative Reality Games Can Create New Real-World Communities (168-173)
o The Invention of Happiness Hacking (187-214)
o Making Better Use of Gamers’ Participation Bandwidth (232-246)
o The Evolution of Games as a Collaborative Platform (268-295)
o World Without Oil (304-316)
o EVOKE: A Crash Course in Changing the World (333-344)

Jane McGonigal provides an especially appropriate conclusion to her book: “Games aren’t leading us to the downfall of human civilization. They’re leading us to its reinvention. The great challenge for us today, and for the remainder of the century, is to integrate games more closely into our everyday lives, and to embrace them as a platform for collaborating on our most important planetary efforts. If we commit to harnessing the power of games for real happiness and real change, then a better reality is more than possible — it is likely. And in that case, our future together will be quite extraordinary.”

I share her faith and am in great debt to her for sharing in her book an abundance of information, insights, and counsel as to how all of us, sharing games together, really can help to make us and our world better.

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