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: I'm a casual gamer... I like to relax and have fun once in a while. So I think there will always be a need/outlet for that. Spending 20+ hours week, late nights, early morning, etc. was a thing of the past- but I think there should be limits. I enjoy regular live "people" games as well: (Uno, Phase 10, Dominoes, Pit, etc.) and I think we should add that balance in our gaming diet, too. It's good to mix it up...

    I wish we could game for a cause or to actually build something. Or explore somewhere real. Perhaps a shooter where we take out the evil cancer cells... ??? To me there should be something we can reach together as a world team!! At least one goal?? Or is this wishful thinking?
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      Feb 16 2011: I don't think it's wishful thinking at all! :) At gameful.org, we're tracking games that are trying to channel gameplay for real world-ends. My favorite right now is EteRNA, which you can play at http://eterna.cmu.edu/content/EteRNA in order to help scientists work on cures for diseases like cancer and Alzheimers. You play by designing RNA in a virtual environment -- the tiny molecules at the heart of every cell. There's a weekly competition to design the RNA that "folds" best, and then scientists synthesize it for real in their lab. You don't need any scientific training or background to play.

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