A Response to Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken
In Reality is Broken’s introduction, McGonigal states a main component of the book’s thesis stating, “Reality, compared to games, is broken,” (McGonigal 3). To me, this is a bold statement. She goes on to elaborate, however, by saying, “…in today’s society computer games and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy,” (McGonigal 4). Basing her assertions on psychological and philosophical studies, she points out positive contributions games have on human experience.
I have two points of contention with McGonigal. First, the statements under the “fix” sections claim universality without basis. Is McGonigal’s perspective on the problem’s of human reality appropriate? Second, I still long for further categorization of games. Are studies of past games applicable to computer and video games?
Fix #1:Unecessary Obstacles states the following:
Compared with games, reality is too easy. Games challenge us with voluntary obstacles and help us put of personal strengths to better use. (McGonigal 22).
McGonigal supports this with psychological studies indicating happiness derived from voluntary work. I find it bold that she would classify reality as “easy” in comparison with games. Individuals can always turn off, or stop playing, a game if it produces frustrations or anxiety. However, individuals can’t expect happiness from avoiding reality. What can be said for a child with abusive parents? I don’t believe this individual would benefit from “unnecessary obstacles” in the form of video or computer games. Rather, this child would benefit from facing reality’s obstacles and achieving in the midst of adversity.
I do agree with McGonigal that such children, or any individual facing obstacles in reality, can learn from specific types games. Her example of Quest to Learn is a great example how a type of game can positively contribute to the lives of children. The public New York City charter school is depicted as serving students with an enthusiasm for learning equivalent to those of the fictional Hogwarts. Financially funded by the Gates Foundation, it’s innovative in its use of games. Students compete to “level up” in educational levels, based on positive reinforcement where they can redeem their shortcomings by working harder.
Psychologically, it seems inherent that games motivate human beings to achieve. Every week, I organize my tasks. I write down my academic goals along with my planned socializing for the week. It seems like a game to manage my time efficiently enough to complete my tasks and reward myself with fun activities. This seems to be the kind of skill McGonigal believes are taught by games.
Reflecting on personal experience, I believe I did learn essential skills from games. This came for me in the form of basketball. Face-to-face interaction, conditioning, and captain leadership all taught me translatable skills to reality. However, I don’t believe I could have gained these skills from video or computer games. I believe the focus of this book, based on McGonigal’s thesis, should revolve specifically around digital games. A categorical examination of games could be more beneficial.
Finally, it’s problematic to view games as a separate entity from reality. When I played basketball, it was my reality. Games shouldn’t be an escape. Rather, I believe specific types of games serve to enhance our lives. We can’t generalize all digital forms of entertainment or help software into the same category of game. Rather, we should examine all activity analytically and remember subjectivity plays a role in humanity.