So begins a series of blogposts on Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.
I first heard about her and her work about three weeks ago when some NPR show covered the release of this book and had a brief interview with her. I then googled her and the book and found the "movement's" website. From it I watched, and posted here, her TED lecture. I then included that lecture in my sermon from two weeks ago. Now the book has arrived and I've begun reading it.
Here is what I am looking for in reading and blogging and discussing it.
- To have a better understanding of gaming culture and gamers, which is a significant chunk of our population.
- To have a better understanding of current theory around game (which I assume is somewhat distinct but related to traditional game theory).
- To develop further my critique that the things she is saying can be found best in gaming are things which ought to be found in the church (or one's religious faith).
- To see if the principles of gaming might be available for use by the church in some form or fashion, from the simplest of ideas -- as a relevant metaphor in preaching to contemporary audiences -- to the bigger notion -- could we/should we develop a game or game model to further the mission of the church?
Also as a side note, I don't consider myself a gamer. I played lots of Atari and Nintendo and computer games over the years. Our senior year in college I wasted lots of time playing Mario Kart on the 64. I enjoyed the new immersive games like Myst and played my friends' copies. I've never purchased a gaming system, never feeling that I had the money. In the late 90's and early Aughts I bought and played games like Civilization and Age of Empires and played those well into the last decade. I quit playing them and never bought new games, though I did look and intended to buy new a few years ago. More on that in a moment. When I was a youth minister I played lots of video games at the homes of my youth.
In the late Aughts when finally my computer upgraded to a version which didnt' sustain well all the games I did own, I didn't have the disposable income to purchase new. I had intended to, but never got around to it. At the time I had a vibrant social life, was actively involved in many community projects, and my relationship with Michael was developing. Plus social networking began to occupy time that might have previously gone to game playing.
I do occassionally miss have some game to while away the hours playing, particularly when I have insomnia. But I've done nothing to correct it.
So, maybe I have a gamer side, it has just atrophied over the last half decade.
Now with my introductions, here are my reflections on hers.
She writes that "the real world increasingly feels like it's missing something:"
Gamers want to know: Where, in the real world, is that gamer sense of being fully alive, focused, and engaged in every moment? Where is the gamer feeling of power, heroic purpose, and community? Where are the bursts of exhilarating and creative game accomplishment? Where is the heart-expanding thrill of success and team victory? While gamers may experience these pleasures occasionally in their real lives, they experience them almost constantly when they're playing their favorite games.
Her basic conclusion, despite naysayers, is something she thinks everyone needs to take notice of: "video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy."
As in her TED lecture, she discusses Herodotus and his view of games. She, interestingly to me, enters into this discussion with a motto from the Institute for the Future: "To understand the future, you have to look back at least twice as far as you're looking ahead." I wonder what my traditionalists at church would make of that quote?
From Herodotus she concludes that games can have an important social purpose. Therefore, she thinks that games with a social purpose need to be designed (and already are). She also thinks that we need to all start thinking like gamers and designing reality to be more like games -- more creative, more problem solving, more fulfilling, happier, etc. This, I am very drawn to.
I am big into transforming the world. It comes with my faith in the reign of God and our role as ambassadors of it. I like her promise that by the end of the book "You'll be prepared to create powerful, alternate realities."
Now, I am a little amused by the near-spiritual sort of language she does use in places, such as this:
If you are a gamer . . . you have been building up a wealth of virtual experience that . . . can teach you about your true self: what your core strengths are, what really motivates you, and what make [sic] you happiest.
She does think that gaming has contributed new evolutionary skills to humanity, that gamers have developed "world-changing ways of thinking, organizing, and acting."
Maybe the final take-away from the Introduction is this: "I want all of us to be responsible for providing the world at large with a better and more immersive reality."