How Video Games Can Make Us Heroes
Jane McGonigal explains how to harness gaming energy to do good.
McGonigal is very smart about what makes a good game tick, both online and off, but she underemphasizes the importance of escapism. Part of the joy of playing tennis is that you are not trying to do good or save the world. You are trying to hit the ball as hard as you can. Likewise for Halo and its bretheren. Games are an escape hatch. If the game is getting better at your job, is that still really a game? Or think of all the people who turn a beloved hobby into a profession, only to watch as their enthusiasm fades. It's fun to play golf; not as fun to be a golf pro.
-10 Restating the obvious.
But there's also the possibility that we just don't have the right games yet. I'm not the first to point out that video games are in the same cultural position that comic books were 60 years ago: A pop-cultural phenomenon preys upon the minds of the young and impressionable. Lo and behold, comic books have become graphic novels—both an esteemed member of the literary pantheon and a powerful new way of telling stories and changing minds. Video games have the chance to take a similar journey to mainstream respectability and artistic heights. McGonigal's idea-stuffed book will be raided by game designers who are looking to create games that are perceived as "adult" and a good use of one's time to improve one's self and mind. (There is a glimmer of what's to come in the craze for "brain training" games or sites like Lumosity.)
-5 False modesty.
-15 Genuflecting at graphic novels.
In just the United States, there are presently 183 million active gamers, and as the gaming industry grows it will continue to seek new niches. There will be more big-budget, massively multiplayer worlds like the recent LEGO Universe , just as there will be more games such as Epic Win ("Level-up your life") that turn your to-do list into a challenge or the Nike+ system that turn your runs into a friendly rivalry. Most of us are only going to get more connected with and responsive to the Internet playing field. Like it or not, the game is on. As the "game layer" gets added to our lives, we should remember McGonigal's key criteria for good games: They make us happy, not guilty. They take us deeper into life, not farther away.
+10 No mention of person in China who died playing video games.
-500 Distracting meta-gimmick.
Game Over. Play Again?
Correction, Feb. 3, 2011: The article originally and incorrectly suggested that the Institute for the Future is affiliated with Stanford University. Though the research institute is based in Palo Alto and is located across the street from Stanford, there are no formal ties. (Return to the corrected sentence.)