On a mission to make gaming matter

2011-03-23 00:00

BEST-SELLING author Jane McGonigal is on a mission, spreading a message that playing games, whether electronic or physical, is not a waste of time but can improve lives and solve real-world problems.

She has been viewed as a kind of ambassador of the $60,4 billion global video-game industry since she spoke at the influential TED Talk conference in 2010. Her book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World hit shops in January and by February it had made the New York Times bestseller list. Now she is a regular guest at seminars and on TV talk shows.

“We can use the positive emotions and social connections that we take from video games to start making a difference in the real world,’’ McGonigal said.

McGonigal got into the video game business when she applied for a game design job in 2001 during her first semester as a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley.

She made her name in the industry by helping design a popular mission-based game that accompanied the launch of Microsoft’s video game Halo 2.

But her work did not stop at video games. One game she designed was a futuristic one called World Without Oil, a collaborative effort where thousands of people showed how they would cope with an oil shortage.

A more controversial game is her Tombstone Hold ’Em, where participants play a physical version of poker using tombstones in cemeteries. Her book argues that the game creates a “social, and more enjoyable way of remembering death,’’ a universal human fear.



But much of her research focuses on how games make people happier, and they stem from an idea she used to overcome challenges in her own life.

In 2009, midway through writing her book, McGonigal suffered a brain injury that left her depressed and unable to write.

A doctor said her brain wouldn’t heal unless she lifted her mood. So, she did what she knew best and created a game that helped her cope with the depression.

The game, called SuperBetter, involves creating a secret identity as a superhero (her’s was Jane the Concussion Slayer) and then recruiting friends and family to play sidekicks in real life.

Her sister, for example, became the Watcher and had to call McGonigal each day to check on her mood, while she had other friends provide comic relief.

“This is a game designed to increase your resilience in the face of any injury or illness, anything from asthma to diabetes to losing weight,’’ she said.

SuperBetter will be tested in clinical trials at The Ohio State University Medical Centre later this year.

Initially, McGonigal was worried that her theories would be rejected by an industry that wanted games to be seen as purely entertainment or escapist, but the opposite happened.

Sam Houston, who works for Electronic Arts, recently saw McGonigal deliver a keynote address at the Penny Arcade Expo East and said he was struck by how she connected with the crowd and got everyone to take part in a massive thumb-war.

Jane did a good job of introducing the concept that gamers can change the world without getting preachy, Houston said.

McGonigal’s next project is called Find the Future, a game that will be played at the New York Public Library in May. About 500 people will spend the night searching for special items like a Thomas Jefferson handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence.

By morning, the winner will have collected enough material for a book that will go into the library’s collection.

“It’ll give people the chance to achieve the real-life goal of becoming an author and by doing it through a game, they’ll have the structure and motivation to get it done,’’ she said.

 — Reuters.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.