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 20 2011: Is there anyone out there except me who finds games boring and "work" fun? Real satisfaction, I find, derives from building value long term that contributes significantly to enhancing people's lives -- not people in the abstract, but people I know, can see, talk to, care about. That's what I do for what people call work. I do occasionally take a few minute game break, mostly to shift my concentration from longer term to shorter term, and it's OK, but not in any sense fun. The question for me for people who spend lots of time gaming, on facebook, etc., is, why? Have you tried all the other ways of testing your mind and body, of love and friendship, and have they failed for you? Or is that exactly what you're avoiding?
    • Feb 20 2011: Not everyone's work provides the "fun" you describe. For some, work is an utter pain. For others there is little to no work. I worry that the assumption can become that because a person is a gamer they are broken. But consider, as the OP has positioned, that it is our reality that is broken.

      I would be interested to here more about what it is you do for "work". I get the sense that skills learned by someone gaming in a dark basement could be utilized in your "work".

      Anyway, consider the author/OP's original premise.

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