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 a researcher who studies how games affect our emotions and how we relate to one another, my experience is that many people who don't game haven't realized what a powerful medium we have on our hands--one capable of contributing immensely to the social good, as Jane points out in her book.

    Learning is one great example--many game designers feel we've only scratched the surface of what's possible in terms of improving the educational experience kids have, using games. As part of the NYU Games for Learning Institute's work, a colleague and I (and our grad students), interviewed professional game designers about learning and games, and the results were fascinating (see http://www.katherineinterface.com/isbister_flanagan_CHI.pdf). A lot of what they said had to do with how powerfully games can move players to care about learning--involving their feelings, giving them a lived experience, one that they can share with other players in real time.

    Games provide immersive, real-time, adaptive and shared experience that can be crafted toward many different ends--my students understand this, and I'm convinced as they go out into the world and take leadership positions in our institutions, that gaming will be more a part of how we accomplish important societal aims like education.
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      Feb 16 2011: That's such a great way to describe the experience of gaming -- "how powerfully games can move players to care about learning." One of my favorite worldchanging projects is Quest to Learn, which uses game design to inform the schedule and curriculum of an entire middle school. I'm not sure many folks are aware of just how many resources Quest to Learn has put online, so you can learn about the philosophy of the school, see sample schedules and classes and learning quests and "boss battles". There are tons of downloads -- like sample curriculum -- here: http://q2l.org/downloads

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