How to Fix Reality

(Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Play to Victory)

Jane McGonigal delivered a really good presentation about game design at GDC this year.  It’s called ‘Reality is Broken.’

Game designers pretty much have it all figured out. We’ve invented a medium that kicks every other medium’s ass. As game designers, we own more emotional bandwidth, we occupy more brain cycles, and we make more people happy than any other platform or content in the world. And if you don’t already believe that, if you don’t realize that we’ve already won, then you’re not paying attention to the staggering amount of time, energy, money and passion that gamers all over the world pour into our games every single day.

Games, says McGonigal, are the ultimate happiness engine. If you look at her characteristics of happiness, (see the pres on SlideShare) I’d say that games are really the ultimate engagement engines. Games are experiences designed to get people to want to participate. They are motivating devices. Their real genius is that they can move people to do things they otherwise woudn’t. McGonigal’s presentation delves into how games can make ordinary things like running, commuting, and being on a plane more interesting, more rewarding experiences.

Games can do all of this because hiding behind that word ‘game’ is really a sophisticated understanding of the way people respond to incentive structures. Games are designed experiences that tap directly into what makes doing things satisfying. Games are ways of motivating people to perform. In the ARG PerplexCity, the players teamed together to write a book – an entire novel. They also organized by themselves to design and set up a distributed computing network to crack a military code. ILoveBees mobilized people all over the ‘States to go out in all weathers, to all corners of their towns, and collect fragments of a radio drama, then painstakingly to piece them together over a series of months.

No one paid these people to do these things. The game designers just presented them with a situation where that was a fun thing to do. Accomplishing these tasks was challenging and rewarding.

Imagine if we could harness this power to motivate people to discover more about the world they live in. That’s what journalists do, isn’t it?

We have this power at our fingertips.

We can take what we’ve learned by making games and apply it to reality, to make real life work more like a game – not make our games more realistic and lifelike, but make our real life more game like – so that when people all over the world wake up every morning, they wake up with a mission, with allies, with a sense of being a part of a bigger story, part of a system that wants them to be happy. We can do it, we should do it, and I hope that we will do it.

We journalists can give our audience this experience: get up, join your friends, be a part of the story, uncover the secret, find out how your society actually works. Go out there and try it. We, the best journalists and game designers in the world, have set this up for you, so you can enrich your life.

After all, games are the most elevated form of investigation.

One thought on “How to Fix Reality

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