What’s in a game? That which we call “Angry Birds” by any other name would addict us just as readily.
Game designer Jane McGonigal wants us to utilize that addictive power for good. Her book, Reality is Broken, examines why people like to play video games and how we can use gaming techniques to make our lives better.
Reality is only broken, she says, in the sense that we humans have let our daily lives evolve in such a way that we’ve taken much of the fun and challenge out of reality. Therefore we crave challenges that offer the defined goals and incremental successes that make us happy — and by that measure, games are just chock full o’ happy.
McGonigal has created a web-based game called SuperBetter to test a hypothesis: people will work to improve their health if they make a game of it. She supports her idea with a great deal of research — some from Ohio State professor of communications and psychology, Brad Bushman.
He did a study on whether being encouraged to help others in a video game encourages people to help others in real life. His findings: “There is an upward spiral of pro-social gaming and helpful behavior.”
“In other words,” McGonigal writes, “the more we help in games, the more we help in life. And so there’s good reason to believe that the more we learn to enjoy serving epic causes in game worlds, the more we may find ourselves contributing to epic efforts in the real world.”
Her own epic challenge came from a concussion that forced her to forego many of the recreational activities that the rest of us take for granted, like reading and watching TV.