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 gamer, I totally don't care whether non-gamers, or anyone else appreciates the games I like. Why should I bother them with my boring opinions? The right games will find the right people when the time is right.
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      Feb 15 2011: When the student is ready the game will appear?
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      Feb 16 2011: You probably have friends and family and colleagues who appreciate and support your gameplay and work in games. :) Not everyone is so lucky! A lot of gamers do struggle to help friends, family or colleagues understand what they're getting out of gaming... and face a lot of pressure to spend less time gaming. So I think it's a fair question -- is there a way to really understand what we get from games and to talk about it with non-gamers? I do agree, however, with the idea that "when the student is ready the game will appear." :) I'd love to hear stories about the games that appeared at the right time for the right person, and how that game changed their ideas about what games can do and be. Stories please! :)
      • Feb 16 2011: I am a gamer and I am surrounded by non-gamers. I work in academia and find that games have a non-academic vibe to them that the majority of faculty migrate towards. As an instructor who teaches game development, i've had other instructors look over my lesson plans and comment that we are "only playing games". I feel that the first major challenge gamers have is being taken seriously. The comical view of the gamer living in the parents basement is damaging to the serious influence games (and gamers) have. I regularly game with Dr's and lawyers, but they seem like closet gamers. Their circle of friends don't game and they seek other social circles who accept gaming as a real activity.

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