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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    Mar 3 2011: A video game to me is a world with many in-worlds in itself. To explain, think of you driving a virtual car, with a lot of advancments, going somewhere around 150 MPH, and then you crash right into a wall. What happened? You crashed. What you have done to prevent the problem? Take evasive action. Was it unavoidable? Possibly. O.K. that's find and dandy for your virtual car, but what about your real car? same situation, but your car isn't pumped up to the point where you can go blazing down the road at 150 MPH, but your about to hit a wall, what do you do? You have what is called a "Pause Second", I call it, a moment in time where you brain switches from what happened to the virtual car to your real car and the body automatically moves to survive. You may get a few scratches here and there, along with a insane amount of money taken away, but your still alive.
    How video game apply to us, is that someone made up of 1s and 0s you used showed you what to do. I have come from a family that believes that video games are a waste of time, I say otherwise.
    To answer the question from the main post on the gamers side, is that they are who they are. You can tell them your favorite game that you played the whole time and gain from it and they won't even care one bit, which I think is pretty harsh, but it's just them. To hit the core of the question is the story, it's like watching a movie and playing at the same time but while at it, expecting something big to happen. That is another thing, the expect something to happen, either you make it happen or you don't, that is what the games have taught me. when non-gamers ask me "So what did you get out of the game?" The first couple of tries I was stunned, I just told them a story, what happened, and what I got in the game. Now latter on, I brush them off by ignoring them, and I share what I have learned freely, for example, Bioshock, it shows what happens when people grow too strong which leads to their utter destruction.

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