In her second chapter, Jane McGonigal discusses postive pscyhology and its use in game design to create happiness.
In 1975 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi proposed a "science of happiness." A key component is flow, defined as "the satisfying, exhilarating feeling of creative accomplishment and heightened functioning." Csikszentmihalyi had concluded that the failure of most real-life institutions to provide flow was an urgent moral issue.
In recent years positive psychology has developed to study human flourishing, and the results of these studies are used by game designers. So, she arrives at Fix #2: Compared with games, reality is depressing. Games focus our energy, with relentless optimism, on something we're good at and enjoy."
So, we begin to see more distinctly one of the problems for the religious life. All religions deal with the reality of human suffering and some, like Christianity, call for our solidarity with suffering, even, at times, taken someone else's suffering on ourselves. Therefore, if we are to use ideas from this game theory, we must be aware of a hedonistic focus. Can the call to solidarity, though, be part of the adventure of epic meaning. Yes, I think so.
Prior to video games, flow was generally available only after great effort, practice, or expending incredible resources. Video games were different, "Never before in human history could this kind of optimal emotional activation [she has in mind the actual physical process of extreme neurochemical activation] be accessed so cheaply, so reliably, so quickly."
One problem with early video games however, was fatigue and burnout. It was discovered that they provided too much flow, therefore gamers became interested in how to design a more "continuous approach to well-being."
The final section of this chapter is about how we make our own happiness. There is some resonance here with the self-help genre, but not as treacly. Her conclusion, "We have to make our own happiness -- by working hard at activities that provide their own reward."
Since I'm preaching on the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus critiques activity done for a reward, I'm concerned. In the Sermon, Jesus preaches that the good life/blessing comes from living with God and that includes things like loving others. There are intrinsic goods that come with the virtues discussed in the sermon.
Even she, however, criticizes external rewards as bringer of happiness. She is looking for intrinsic goods as well, though I don't think the same as Jesus was. She does criticizes the American way of life for putting people on the "global hedonic treadmill." This resonated with some stuff I was reviewing today in Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change, about the gospel liberating us from "The Prosperity System."
One of those instrinsic goods is meaning. In her short paragraph on it (I assume we'll get into more detail in a later chapter), she has a sentence that resonates with worship: "We want to feel curiosity, awe, and wonder about things that unfold on epic scales."