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 21 2011: Jane,
    I was very energized by hearing you speak on NPR about your book and work with games. I am currently working with veterans and their families coming back from war, on active duty or veterans of former wars.The high rate of suicide and the costs to families, especially care taker spouses and children has gotten every mental health professionals attention. The national stigma against mental health services is much greater in the military. I was wondering if there was some way to have a "game" with returning "warriors" where lots of options are present (e.g. buying guns, alcohol); getting and losing jobs.....going for help for PTSD and not.....Just playing with ideas of ways to get the attention of those of would NEVER consider mental health services for themselves. Has this been done to your knowledge? Thanks for any feedback. Peg Grandison
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      Mar 2 2011: There is one game, called Commandos. It is not exactly what you want, but it is a very nice strategical game and you don't really need to have very good gaming skills to play it.

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