Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal
genre: nonfiction, gaming, life improvement
age: all!, adult
rating: 7/8 tentacles
I spent a large portion of my childhood glued to either the television screen or computer monitor playing all sorts of games with the ferocity of a baby drug addict. Reading Blaster, Kings Quest VII: The Princeless Bride, Super Mario Bros, Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, Mario Party, Paper Mario, and (especially) Final Fantasy VIII are some of my favorites. I understand the joy that comes from abandoning one’s self to the rules and world of a game, from working hard under the constricts of those rules to achieve an arbitrary goal, the path to which is strewn with obstacle after obstacle. I understand the determination, the absorption, and the focus it takes to achieve those goals as well as the pleasure of these comparatively small successes, the pleasure of simply escaping.
McGonical, herself a game designer, wonders why so many gamers choose to spend their time working toward virtual successes that have little value in the “real world” when they could dedicate themselves to equal but more practical productivity in their lives. In her exploration of the human love—need, even—for games, McGonical references a wide variety examples ranging from Jacks to Tetris to Words with Friends to World of Warcraft to sports. She then suggests applying the structure of game-play (a clear goal, clear instructions, and direct feedback) to real life projects and work. I think this is a fantastic way to give ourselves the sense of purpose often found in games.
A lot of what McGonical says here can be applied to books. A good book allows us to live vicariously through its characters, who often accomplish great things that might feel more important or more consequential than the trivialities of our everyday lives. Books, in addition to games, offer an alternate reality that is in many ways more satisfying than real life. I find this both sad and wonderful. Reality is Broken is ultimately a dissection of the reasons we seek escapist ventures, why we choose the methods of escape that we do, and how we can mold our worlds into places that mimic the games that fulfill us and provide us with such satisfaction.
McGonigal’s prose is deliciously clear. She writes with entrancing and efficient simplicity. Her book was a joy to read and provided some fascinating insights into the psychology of gaming, the awareness of which will now influence the way I organize my work projects and my life.