TED Conversations

Jane McGonigal

Game Designer + Inventor, Institute for the Future


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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: As an EX-GAMER: I think people underestimate the catalyst for curiosity that gaming can be. My younger brother, for example, has always been an avid gamer. One day, while walking through Barnes and Noble, he spotted Friedrich Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra." He dashed over to the book and could not escape its compelling pages for days to come. Never before had he read any philosophy or even expressed any interest in it whatsoever. What caused this sudden change? Video games.

    In one of his favorite games, Tales of Symphonia, Zarathustra was the name of something important (either a character or place, I can't remember). Seeing that word in the bookstore made him wildly curious. The rest is history.

    Like comedy, gaming can serve intellectual hors d' oeuvres. Monty Python always sprinkled remnants of their Oxford- and Cambridge-educated minds in to their work. In the same way, there are many games out there that are in fact spreading intellectual curiosity. Game designers need to realize that incorporating such intellectual catalysts can only boost the quality of a game.
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      Feb 15 2011: Jason, I think you make an excellent point. The quality of the experience is so important. Some pedagogies such as Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia emphasize the importance of the environment as the third teacher in learning (the other two being the student and the teacher). Thus, the gaming environment can positively or negatively contribute to human development. Games with mythic motifs as compared to inferior human potentials have much greater potential to positively affect the gamer.
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      Feb 15 2011: Love the concept of richly infusing games with characters derived from wise tomes and plots as wild as an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.
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      Feb 15 2011: I am now playing Persona 3 Portable, and I often think that this game will probably get a lot of people into Jung. Apart from the obvious gameplay elements (personas and shadows for two), because a large part of the game happens at school during class, you actually get a lot of little lectures and bits of knowledge about myth/magic, psychology and such, and are then quizzed on that. It's a small part of the game, but I bet that it will make a few people grab a Jung primer.

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