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 19 2011: I agree with the OP/author's premise, at least in part. I've been unemployed for several months. Before then, my reality was filled with problem-solving, teamwork, and goals. Since losing my job I have been playing a fair amount of video games, largely as an escape, but also to replace missing aspects of my day-to-day life. In my virtual realities I can experience challenge, teamwork, creation, and a general sense of accomplishment that has been lacking in my reality.

    As my unemployment has dragged on, I have desired to get back into pencil and paper RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons, which I played in high school. These RPGs are the foundation of the deeply immersive and progress oriented video games of today. I know one reason I want to participate in these types of games is to further correct the errors in my current reality. What I wish non-gamers understood is the tremendous learning potential that games like these hold.

    Games provide not only an escape, but an accelerated learning experience. Playing Dungeons & Dragons in high school taught me about using teamwork to reach goals, especially to utilize strengths and mitigating weaknesses. Knowing how to ensemble and best utilize each member of a team is a valuable skill. I was able to explore, use, and hone this skill at a young age. In a few 3 hour gaming sessions I was able to experience what would have taken me months or even years to experience in school or a working environment. Not only does gaming allow me to improve upon my daily reality, but it allows me to improve upon the wider realities of learning and experience.

    You know you're playing a good game when it draws you in. It's then that you know the game is fixing some part of a broken reality. I don't know that reality is broken, but everyone's reality is definitely flawed at times. That draw can also be dangerous. But the value of video games is to provide something that most other forms of "entertainment" cannot; the best teacher, experience.

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