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: II discovered that I'm addicted with games, that's why I stopped playing them (though it was very difficult)God gave me time to live a real life and to do something worthwhilIe, to achieve my real life's purposes. I stopped playing and now I feel myself better physically and mentally. And I live without feeling of guilt that I'm doing something wrong. But I'm quite tolerant to gamers. My boyfriend is gamer and he says that games help him to relax and calm down after hard day at work. I approve it because I think that a man should have an outlet for his negative feelings. But for me - best kind of games are educational games, because when you're playing them, you're not spending your time, you're investing it in education and develop your cognitive skills such as memory, attention, or speech. That's why I'd like to take different quizzes or educational courses that have elements of games into them. I wish that there were more such kind of courses, not only for children but for adults too. I think that new knowledge will help to give birth to new ideas.
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      Feb 15 2011: Interesting perspective Anna. The biggest reason I don't play games either is simply because my time is so constrained, and every time I play I feel I am not making progress towards completing something of value. However, I still respect gamers a good amount: their community, their leadership, their enthusiasm, and the joy they find in the game. Don't get me wrong, some games are simply for leisure and some require massive amounts of vulgar language online, but others hold strong value in their quality of writing, storytelling, and "relaxing" value they bring to the gamer. That was one of the few reasons I played games a while back: for the quality of the story and the complexity of characters.

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