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: As a gamer I wish people would appreciate the level of art and complexity that goes into a game. A good game must have striking visuals, as well as a compelling stories and/or characters, all while having novel and entertaining gameplay. Even for what most consider a straightforward shooter like Halo, there is a wealth of mythos and character design that doesn't actually make it into the game.

    But above all I would like people to recognize how this a new medium to tell a story, in a way previously impossible. In a game like Half Life 2 or Bioshock, the main characters never even say a word. Instead the player becomes the protagonist, and every level shapes your image of the character's wants and desires. Ultimately instead of reading about a plot detail or watching it in a movie, you are experiencing the plot first hand. Games like Mass Effect take this idea so far that your choices influence the arc of the story, making it exceedingly personal. It took a long time for photography, or movies to be recognized as an art form. But it is my hope that eventually people will recognize games as well.

    Lastly, people have to understand that there are a lot of different types of video games, and each type brings something different. Even games with little to no story can be valuable. Real Time Strategy games like Starcraft 2 tax your decision making speed and multitasking abilities to the max. Whereas a puzzle game like Portal makes you think deliberately before you act. To answer 'What I get out of games?' I would reply it depends what I want to get out of them. There are people who play World of Warcraft to escape from reality, but there are also people who play in an intensely social manner. Personally I enjoy a good story and I enjoy getting good at something, so games that meet those needs I like to play.

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