TED Conversations

Jane McGonigal

Game Designer + Inventor, Institute for the Future

TEDCRED 100+

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We spend 3 billion hours a week as a planet playing videogames. Is it worth it? How could it be MORE worth it?

Currently there are more than half a billion people worldwide playing computer and videogames at least an hour a day -- and 183 million in the U.S. alone. The younger you are, the more likely you are to be a gamer -- 99% of boys under 18 and 94% of girls under 18 report playing videogames regularly. The average young person racks up 10,000 hours of gaming by the age of 21 -- or 24 hours less than they spend in a classroom for all of middle and high school if they have perfect attendance. It's a remarkable amount of time we're investing in games. 5 million gamers in the U.S., in fact, are spending more than 40 hours a week playing games -- the equivalent of a full time job!

What accounts for the lure of games – and are we getting as much from our games as we’re giving them?

I explore these questions in my new book Reality is Broken – and I believe that, for most gamers, playing games is, surprisingly not a waste of time -- but rather quite productive. Gameplay may not contribute to the Gross Domestic Product… but scientific research shows that gameplay does contribute to our quality of life, by producing positive emotions (such as optimism, curiosity and determination) and stronger social relationships (when we play with real-life friends and family – especially if the game is co-operative). And for gamers who prefer tough, challenging games, they can build up our problem-solving resilience -- so we learn faster from our mistakes, and become resilient in the face of failure.

However... not all games power-up our real lives. Some games, at the end of the day, make us feel stupid for having wasted so much time on them.

So: How do we know when we're playing a good game -- and when would we be better off doing something "real"?

GAMERS: What's one thing you wish non-gamers would understand about your favorite games, and what you get out of playing them?

NON-GAMERS: What's one thing you wish a gamer would explain about games today, and why they play?

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    Feb 15 2011: So: How do we know when we're playing a good game -- and when would we be better off doing something "real"?

    If I play games out of boredom, in a routine, consequently for many hours, than I should be doing something in real world instead, as otherwise playing video games is a waste of time.

    A good game, is when I play with my girlfriend in one team or when I play with friends who are at other cities. I find that playing video games with my girlfriend is rewarding because we learn how to communicate more effectively. Apparently I micro manage her a lot, so we had to work that out.
    Secondly, lots of my friends live in different cities, and the way we stay in touch is by playing games together. Modern games such as Starcraft II have social network and chat integrated so its easy to keep in touch with friends and do something together like play a game.

    GAMERS: What's one thing you wish non-gamers would understand about your favorite games, and what you get out of playing them?
    I think that Non-Gamers tend to attach stigma to gamers, such as having no life and no social skills. While it is true of some gamers, but majority of gamers are not like that. Majority of my friends who are gamers are executive members of different university clubs, participate in politics as well as organize local TEDx events. Additionally, all of my friends who are gamers, participate in sports such as kiteboarding.

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