Can Games “Fix” Reality?

“Reality Compared to Games is Broken.”

This succinct and powerful statement is argued by Jane McGonigal in her book Reality is Broken. I must say this book is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a while.

McGonigal, a world-renowned game designer, argues that people are suffering because reality is not what it should be. Reality isn’t providing the necessary principles people need in order to obtain true happiness. However, this can be fixed through the use of games.

Yes, games.

As an Interactive Media student with interest in the positive effects of interactive media on society, the thought that game playing can trigger positive change interest me. Mcgonigal’s claim may sound absurd at first glance, but she argues her point well by first identifying what reality is “missing”, and then how games can help fix it.

For example, McGonigal’s first “fix” is:

“Unnecessary Obstacles: Compared with games, reality is too easy. Games challenge us with obstacles and help us put our personal strengths to better use.”

She argues games make people happy because it’s voluntary hard work and “…almost nothing makes us happier than good hard work.”

Upon reading this, my first thought was, “People like hard work? I know a few people who I can categorize as lazy, who would rather sit around and do the bare minimum to survive.” So, I didn’t necessarily agree with that idea.  However, McGonigal made me wonder if those people I considered “lazy” were in fact “lazy” because they have no interest in interacting with society because reality is “broken.” Her ideas definitely got my brain churning.

I do agree with the idea that when people play games, they are voluntarily doing hard work. For example, when I play games such as “Bejeweled” or “Text Twist,” I am voluntarily playing those games that challenge me mentally. Or when playing games such as “Wii Sports” or “Just Dance” on Nintendo Wii, I am voluntarily participating in a game that challenges me physically, and it’s fun. Those things are considered “hard fun” according to McGonigal.

However, I think people can participate in “hard fun” outside of game play. How? Just by doing things in reality that they love to do.

For example, as an iMedia student I have learned how to use Adobe Flash which is a program that allows users to create simple animation.  For me, this program was difficult because I had to learn a computer programming code called action script which I had never heard of before.  Flash projects are very time-consuming and the program itself is very fickle when it comes to coding accurately, but I thoroughly enjoy working with it. It’s hard work that I like doing.

In my opinion, “hard fun” is achievable when people choose occupations or careers that make them feel good on the inside, not because of the extrinsic awards it provides.  I love videography, so if I was to choose a job which would allow me to utilize me skills, I would be participating in hard fun, thereby feeling satisfied with reality; I wouldn’t need a game to feel that way.

I’ve only read the first few chapters of this book, and I’m excited to continue reading and find out more about McGonigal’s revolutionary approach to fixing society.  I’m sure as I continue reading I will remain on the fence about her ideas; not totally agreeing with them, while not totally disagreeing with them.


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