Reality is Broken? Are You Sure? It Works For Me.
I like to think of myself as an equal opportunity skeptic. One of the most important lessons you learn as a graduate student is to look down on all research that isn’t actually yours, unless it supports whatever it is you are doing. In which case, that person is totally on the ball and should be trusted completely.
So even though I enjoy gaming and have dedicated the majority of this blog to ridiculing the various negative stereotypes that are thrown at it in the media, that doesn’t mean I will immediately hop on the bandwagon of anyone who has something good to say about it.
That brings us to Jane McGonigal. She is the Director of Games Research & Development at the Institute for the Future and a designer of ARGs (alternate reality games, and also the worst acronym for anything, ever). She recently released a new book entitled Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World in January of 2011.
It is this book that has brought McGonigal to my attention, as she was recently interviewed on The Colbert Report and the book itself was reviewed on Slate’s Culture Gabfest podcast. While I haven’t had a chance to read the book itself, since I only just learned of its existence, I hope to rectify this and give it a fair shake.
What I can comment on, however, are the interview and review pieces. To keep this from being a sprawling essay, I’ll just cover the Colbert piece for now.
(Note: I’d love to embed the video here for everyone’s convenience, but WordPress simply can’t handle the awesome might of iframes. If it’s not on Youtube, Google or Dailymotion, WordPress wants nothing to do with it. I’m afraid that means you will all have to actually watch it at Colbert Nation. So go do that. Except for those of you outside the U.S. You’re totally out of luck. Since why would we want media and information spread all over the world in this day and age? Psh, that’s crazy talk.)
Colbert is his usual caricature throughout this interview, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I chuckled along with the rest of them when he expressed disbelief at McGonigal being both female and a gamer, and gave a wry smile at the picture of the typical gamer being pear-shaped and having cheetos-stained fingers. I don’t regularly watch Colbert, but I am familiar enough with his work to know that he’s poking more fun at said stereotypes than he is at gamers.
I was less impressed with McGonigal’s defense for gaming as a whole. She seemed more focused on spouting out impressive (yet mysteriously lacking in any sort of citation) statistics about how there are “500 million gamers on the planet” and they spend “3 billion hours of gaming in the world a week.”
What exactly were these numbers for? Why are we randomly tossing them out? Is it fun or something? Let me see…
“I’ve written hundreds of words about gaming so far in thousands of seconds for an audience of nearly tens of people!”
…Yeah ok, I suppose it sort of is. It’s not terribly useful, however.
She mentions that 10 years of scientific research (from where? By whom? Using what methodology?) show that games are “the most productive thing we can do.”
I decided to conduct my own incredibly scientific research on this claim. I opened up WordPress, pulled out my Nintendo DS and then spent three hours beating the crap out of slimes in Dragon Quest IX.
When I looked back at the computer, I was both astounded and annoyed to see that this post hadn’t written itself. I dunno, maybe I need to spend billions of hours gaming instead. I’ll get back to you on that.
That aside, I did appreciate some of the points McGonigal made in the interview. She stated that gamers can tap into their best qualities in a gaming session. I can dig that. I’ve been forced by games to be patient, to think critically and outside the box, to react on a moment’s notice, make quick decisions, and be
stubborn resilient in the face of failure, among other things.
I also appreciated the idea of wanting to help gamers realize they are the same person in the game as out, but perhaps not in the way McGonigal meant. She stated it in the idea of having gamers take those positive qualities and confidence out of the game into reality. I’d just like it if people online treated each other the same way they would in a face-to-face situation.
Overall, the Colbert segment was fun to watch (as most things featuring Colbert are), and it was nice to watch someone defending games on TV for once. Whether those arguments were really compelling, however, was a different matter.
Next time, we’ll take a look at Slate’s Culture Gabfest podcast and their discussion of Reality is Broken. Spoilers: Of the three people in the discussion, 1 person hates video games, 1 person’s idea of hardcore gaming is Solitaire, and the other… uh… well, he knows some names of popular game franchises. Look forward to it.