I first became of aware of Jane McGonigal in the second half of 2010, courtesy of my then web teacher Peter Hulme. Our introduction, if you could call it that, was through a TED talk (I’ll link the video below) which really opened my eyes in some regards. It was in fact my second TED talk, the first was one by Jesse Schell and while they were both touching on similar topics I felt Jane’s message was delivered better and ultimately more powerful. As I said it opened my eyes, but to what? The potential for gaming to solve big real problems that affect us on many scales, not just the global one. Such an example is Evoke. We in this modern era as a society are spending more and more time involved in video games (whether playing or in their communities) and the question is, how do we harness this and turn it into something practical and helpful?
In a nutshell? Jane McGonigal, PhD is a world-renowned designer of alternate reality games — or, games that are designed to improve real lives and solve real problems. Now for the longer version!
She believes game designers are on a humanitarian mission — and her #1 goal in life is to see a game developer win a Nobel Peace Prize.
She is the New York Times bestselling author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (Penguin Press, 2011) — and currently serves as the Creative Director for Social Chocolate, where she is making games powered by the science of positive emotion and social connection.
She has created and deployed award-winning games and secret missions in more than 30 countries on six continents, for partners such as the American Heart Association, the International Olympics Committee, the World Bank Institute, and the New York Public Library. She specializes in games that challenge players to tackle real-world problems, such as poverty, hunger and climate change, through planetary-scale collaboration. Her best-known work includes EVOKE, Superstruct, World Without Oil, Cruel 2 B Kind, and The Lost Ring. These games have been featured in The New York Times, Wired, and The Economist, and on MTV,CNN, and NPR.
Jane is also a future forecaster. She currently serves as the Director of Games Research & Development at the Institute for the Future, a non-profit research group in Palo Alto, California. Her research focuses on how games are transforming the way we lead our real lives, and how they can be used to increase our resilience and well-being. Her work has been featured in Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, O(prah) Magazine, Fast Company, The New York Times Science section, and more.
She is the founder of Gameful, “a secret headquarters for worldchanging game developers.”
She has a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in performance studies, and has consulted and developed internal game workshops for more than a dozen Fortune 500 and Global 500 Companies, including Intel, Nike, Disney, McDonalds, Accenture, Microsoft, and Nintendo. Before joining IFTF, she taught game design and game theory at UC Berkeley and the San Francisco Art Institute.
She enjoys speaking to global audiences . She has appeared at TED and the New Yorker Conference, and keynoted SXSW interactive, the Game Developers Conference, the Idea Festival, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Web 2.0 Summit, UX Week, Webstock, and more. Invite her to speak to your organization or at your event. (She especially loves to travel to Asia, the UK and Scandinavia!)
A former New Yorker, she now lives in San Francisco with her husband Kiyash and Shetland Sheepdog Meche.
Jane’s Practical Advice for Gamers
1. Don’t play more than 21 hours a week.
Studies show that games benefit us mentally and emotionally when we play up to 3 hours a day, or 21 hours a week. (In extremely stressful circumstances – such as serving in the military during war-time – research shows that gamers can benefit from as many as 28 hours a week.) But for virtually everyone else, whenever you play more than 21 hours a week, the benefits of gaming start to decline sharply.
By the time you’re spending 40 hours or more a week playing games, the psychological benefits of playing games have disappeared entirely – and are replaced with negative impacts on your physical health, relationships, and real-life goals. So always strive to keep your gaming in the sweet spot: 7 – 21 hours a week.
2. Playing with real-life friends and family is better than playing alone all the time, or with strangers.
Gaming strengthens your social bonds and builds trust, two key factors in any positive relationship. And the more positive relationships you have in real life, the happier, healthier and more successful you are.
You can get mental and emotional benefits from single-player games, or by playing with strangers online – but to really unlock the power of games, it’s important to play them with people you really know and like as often as possible.
A handy rule-of-thumb: try to make half of your gaming social. If you play 10 hours a week, try to play face-to-face with real-life friends or family for at least 5 of those hours.
(And if you’re not a gamer yourself — but you have a family member who plays games all the time, it would do you both good to play together – even if you think you don’t like games!)
3. Playing face-to-face with friends and family beats playing with them online.
If you’re in the same physical space, you’ll supercharge both the positive emotional impacts and the social bonding.
Many of the benefits of games are derived from the way they make us feel – and all positive emotions are heightened by face-to-face interaction.
Plus, research shows that social ties are strengthened much more when we play games in the same room than when we play games together online.
Multi-player games are great for this. But single-player works too! You can get all the same benefits by taking turns at a single-player game, helping and cheering each other on.
4. Cooperative gameplay, overall, has more benefits than competitive gameplay.
Studies show that cooperative gameplay lifts our mood longer, and strengthens our friendships more, than competing against each other.
Cooperative gameplay also makes us more likely to help someone in real life, and better collaborators at work – boosting our real-world likeability and chances for success.
Competition has its place, too, of course – we learn to trust others and often motivate ourselves to achieve more when we compete. Not to mention, of course, that all games are fundamentally cooperative, even if we’re trying to beat someone — we’re cooperating to play by the same rules and to play the game all the way through without quitting.
But if we spend all our time competing with others, we miss out on the special benefits of co-op play. So when you’re gaming with others, be sure to check to see if there are co-op missions or a co-op mode available. An hour of co-op a week goes a long way. (Find great co-op games for every platform, and a family-friendly list too, at Co-Optimus, the best online resource for co-op gaming.)
5. Creative games have special positive impacts.
Many games encourage or even require players to design and create as part of the gameplay process – for example: Spore, Little Big Planet, and Minecraft; the Halo level designer and the Guitar Hero song creator.
These games have been shown to build up players’ sense of creative agency – and they make us more likely to create something outside of the game. If you want to really build up your own creative powers, creative games are a great place to start.
Of course, you can always take the next creative step – and start making your own games. If you’ve never made a game, it’s easier than you think — and there are some great books to helpyou get started.
2 other important rules:
* You can get all of the benefits of a good game without realistic violence – you (or your kids) don’t have to play games with guns or gore.
If you feel strongly about violence, look to games in other genres – there’s no shortage of amazing sports, music, racing, puzzle, role-playing, casual, strategy and adventure games. (I personally only kill zombies, monsters and aliens in games — or do battle with imaginary weapons, not guns. I just don’t like the way realistic violence makes me feel.)
*Any game that makes you feel bad is no longer a good game for you to play.
This should be obvious, but sometimes we get so caught up in our games that we forget they’re supposed to be fun. If you find yourself feeling really upset when you lose a game, or if you’re fighting with friends or strangers when you play – you’re too invested. Switch to a different game for a while, a game that has “lower stakes” for you personally.
Or, especially if you play with strangers online, you might find yourself surrounded by other players who say things that make you uncomfortable – or who just generally act like jerks. Their behavior will actually make it harder for you to get the positive benefits of games – so don’t waste your time playing with a community that gets you down.
Meanwhile, if you start to wonder if you’re spending too much time on a particular game – maybe you’re starting to feel just a tiny bit addicted — keep track of your gaming hours for one week. Make sure they add up to less than 21 hours! And you may want to limit yourself to even fewer for a little while if you’re feeling too much “gamer regret”.
Interested in Jane’ McGonigal take on the role the Gaming Industry has to play? Why not check out her book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, to delve deeper?