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i want to believe

maura @ 8:51 pm

I finally read Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal. Maybe you’ve seen her TED talk, which is 20 pretty enjoyable minutes; I recommend it. The book, which is well-written and fun to read, expands on the basic themes of the talk: lots of people spend lots of time playing games, games make us happy, how can we channel that energy and repurpose that time into solving the big hairy problems facing us and our planet today? The strategy she suggests is to figure out how to make games that can save the world, so we can all spend lots of time playing games and saving the world.

Okay, I’ll grant that I just wrote a really, really simplistic summary of the book. In fact, it’s fairly well-argued and cited, and full of details. And I’m glad I read it. But am I convinced? As you may remember, I’m kind of a fan of games. I should be easy to convince, right?

But I feel like Mulder: I want to believe, so much. But something about it just doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe it’s all of the positive psychology research included in the book. I think of myself as a fairly optimistic person, but I just read something (which of course I can’t find now) which asserts that too much optimism (a strangely American condition?) can actually be bad, because inability to seriously consider the bad things that could happen means that you’re less likely to be prepared if a bad thing does happen. So I guess I feel like it’s good to be optimistic, but not too much, and which makes me less willing to buy in to positive psychology.

I’m also uncomfortable with the corporate ties and funding that such big, giant, world-changing games are almost guaranteed to require. McGonigal’s developed lots of games, some with corporate backing, and some not. I’d rather play a game that grapples honestly (if whimsically) with what’s required to be a global corporation like McDonald’s than play a big game sponsored by McDonald’s.

Unfortunately, finally reading the book reminded me of the negative press it got last summer when it was released. My CUNY Games Network colleague Carlos Hernandez wrote a post about it on our blog, which hits the high points well. Lots of that negative press was pretty sexist, which bugged me at the time and bugs me even more now in our arguing-about-birth-control world. The sexism inherent in the game development industry (about which this is only the most recent piece I’ve read) hardly a secret. But I can’t help but wonder, would the press have been so dismissive if McGonigal were male?

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2 comments on “i want to believe”

Anne (12 March 2012 at 8:05 am)

Bejeweled Blitz owns my brain.

maura (12 March 2012 at 9:34 pm)

Dude, I’m still Tripling my Towns. It’s the purest form of addiction, the likes of which I haven’t seen since I used to play Tetris on my MacPlus on 57th St. Something about those dastardly bears…

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