How Video Games Can Make Us Heroes
Jane McGonigal explains how to harness gaming energy to do good.
It's that number—10 billion kills—that forms a crux of McGonigal's argument. She quotes from Halo message boards about how this mission imbued the game's players with a strong sense of fellowship. She notes how Halo players have collaborated on careful and detailed guides to the game. It's undeniable that Halo has organized and channeled a massive amount of human endeavor, but for what purpose? McGonigal's take: "Joining any collective effort and embracing feelings of awe can help us unlock our potential to lead a meaningful life and leave a meaningful mark on the world." Racking up virtual kills with our fellow virtual soldiers makes us more likely to pitch in when we step away from the screen.
+20 Avoidance of the word wiki.
Hmm … It's not hard to think of "collective efforts" that didn't work out so well for all involved. And the evidence that gaming fellowship carries over into soup-kitchen fellowship is slight. Another way of looking at those 10 billion kills is suggested by the book's epilogue, an anti-virtual world sentiment that McGonigal sets out to challenge. It's from Exodus to the Virtual Worldby the philosopher Edward Castronova: "Anyone who sees a hurricane coming should warn others … . You can't pull millions of person-hours out of a society without creating an atmospheric-level event." It's a haunting idea. What small acts of human creativity and connection do we forfeit while enjoying our pixelated pleasures? It's worth noting that McGonigal's book grew out of an officially sanctioned "rant" she delivered at a gaming conference. On one level, she's addressing the collective guilt of the gaming industry. What good are these elaborate creations besides the generation of distraction and profit?
-15 Rhetorical question overload.
McGonigal writes of the self-critical side of game designers. There's a growing sense that it's not enough to make just an addictive game. Instead, game designers should strive to make us into lifelong gamers, to build "sustainable attention." That may sound like mere image-enhancing semantics, but there is a real industry interest at work in the effort to rescue their ingenious creations from the realm of obsession. David Sudnow burned out on Breakout; the game also wreaked havoc on his regular life. That pattern continues in the more sophisticated games of today. The challenge is how to make people integrate games into their lives in such a way that they still have a life.
+10 Buzz-phrase unpacking.
McGonigal takes this idea a big step further. Not only do games teach us how to structure our lives to be happy, the principles of gameplay can in turn be used to make our lives better. When McGonigal had trouble recovering from a freak head-injury, she invented a game called SuperBetter in which she was Jane the Concussion Slayer and all her friends and husband were enlisted in various roles. The game helped organize her social-support system and definitely sped her recovery. What isn't really clear is whether the game motivated McGonigal's close friends to do things they would have done in any event.
-10 Predictable quibble.
McGonigal offers other examples of "positive impact" games or games that "leverage the play of the planet," but her most convincing case isn't technically a game, it's Wikipedia. As Wikipedians themselves have pointed out, the user-generated encyclopedia has "good mechanics." You see your edits instantly, you can set yourself the task of improving certain subfields or particular entries, and the gameworld of the encyclopedia has an engaged community that argues over the merits of various changes, patrols for vandalism, and expands the site into new territories of knowledge. In its shaggy, often imperfect way, Wikipedia has added to our common good. Especially if you care about Star Trek.
-15 Grating use of second person.
-20 Star Trek joke.