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 27 2011: the one question i would like to ask gamers is, how has gaming contributed to the childhood obesity epidemic in north america?
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      Feb 28 2011: Whereas video games do usually mean sitting in front of a computer or a console, I doubt that they are a decisive factor in childhood obesity.

      You don't get fat because you spend an hour or two playing games, you get fat because you don't exercise besides that, because you eat unhealthy food etc.

      Plus, the new trend in fitness games is actually fighting this problem. I know of at least two friends who don't exercise much otherwise, but who regularly play Wii Fit. It appears to be more fun to lose weight and gain points and achievements at the same time than to just lose weight. :D
      • Feb 28 2011: very good points Sabin,but i wonder how many young people are playing wii fit for 40 hours a week,one of the problems which has been brought up is when people are gaming they have easy access to food ie fridge etc,do you feel there is any rational in this argument?
    • Mar 2 2011: Terrible eating habits are probably a far bigger concern, playing video games doesn't cause a child to be obese. If the child is eating to much and eating the wrong types of food chances are they won't have the energy to do something physical.

      Video games contribute in a small way, but I still see parents in the grocery store buying cases of pop, potato chips, several bags of cookies, cereals that are more of a desert than a breakfast and then stopping at McDonald's on the way home.
    • Mar 4 2011: What Jeremy Ogram said. We are saturated with marketing to consume those empty calories.

      Not only that, there has been a parenting trend towards hyper-vigilance in the last few decades. Kids are kept indoors instead of being sent outside to play. They learn to be sedentary. I'm not advocating for careless parenting, but I feel sorry that kids don't have the same freedom to roam that I had.

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