TED Conversations

Jane McGonigal

Game Designer + Inventor, Institute for the Future

TEDCRED 100+

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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 14 2011: As a GAMER: There are so many things I would like to (and try to) get across to people who consider themselves "non-gamers," but if I had to pick one it's that there can be such a variety of kinds of experiences we get through the medium of video games, we can't possibly lump them all together when we talk about games. It's like trying to discuss films in terms of "are movies good for you? are movies a waste of time?" Some movies are, some movies aren't. I watch some types of films, but few of us watch all types of films.

    As there are many different types of games (and the number of genres expands every year), there are many types of people playing games, and many types of experiences. I think moving forward, the conversation we have about video games should be more nuanced than talking about the entire medium as a whole.
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      Feb 16 2011: That's such a great point. I wonder what it will take to get there. Do we need a more nuanced vocabulary that everyone understands -- the way we can talk about "documentaries" or "experimental shorts" or "animated" or "romantic comedies"...? Or is that not a fine enough grain... or maybe the wrong grain? Do we need to to talk about games that "make you feel" or "make you think" or "make you move" or "make you act", for example, which is closer to how we talk about and evaluate other media. Hmmmm... It would certainly be a good way to think about experimental game design!
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        Feb 16 2011: Don't we already have categorization? Like "genres"? Yeah, I agree those don't make much sence to non-gamers, but then again, I didn't understood what a "thriller" movie stood for until I actually watched one.

        I guess separate categorizations with criterias like these are also possible... "make you move" seems to be more of a controller issue than a game issue though. Dancing games don't make you dance unless you're using Kinect or a Wii controller. Similar things could be said for most other categorizations you mentioned.

        Here's an idea for some categorization that doesn't need (much?) explaining even to non-gamers: Fun/Joy games, puzzle board and card games, management games, philosophical games, creativity nurturing games, collaboration games, anti-example games (that one needs more explanation; I'm talking about all games that portray "bad" stuff, but in the end, if you're in your right mind, you'll see that's not stuff that should go into the real world as portrayed; examples include NFS:HP and GTA4)... I think I might be missing something, but I'm just thinking of every game I can think of and try to categorize it.
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      Feb 17 2011: Genres are there, obviously, but a grand list going from A-Z or a link to Wikipedia is just really not that convincing when trying to communicate the diversity of something as dynamic, vibrant and motley as video games.

      I very much agree with you, Kellee, that we're far beyond the point, where it would make sense to talk about games as some well defined, internally consistent and homogeneous group. Games are not "just games".

      Oftentimes discussions on games are marred by exactly this preconception, that games are somehow "just games", all equal, rendering it valid to play one game, dislike it and conclude to dislike games in general.

      Hey, the frequently uttered claim that "I'm just not into games" is bordering on being nonsensical. One such claim would - if taken to the extreme - require you to know all the games in the world, which is the case for none of us.

      On the contrary, the claim is often made by people who know next to nothing about games, but have decided nevertheless (consciously or unconsciously) that games are simply not their cup of tea. Most of these decisions are thus based on the broader cultural framing of games; ideas that games are for kids only, that they're stupid, shallow entertainment, that they're always about killing everything in sight, that they may even be harmful - in short, that they're a waste of time (at best).

      So yes, Jane, I would absolutely argue, that we need a richer, more nuanced and diverse vocabulary to mirror the diversity and dynamics of games. Games are an inherent, invaluable and vital part of culture, and as such, they deserve more than shallow rhetoric, denouncing their value. Many of you are doing a great job in promoting a more reflective way of talking about games, both by developing marvelous games and delivering stunning talks. We need to break out of these enclosed circles, though, and address these issues elsewhere, not least in education.

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