Reality may be broken, but are games the solution?

This post is the first in a series that will be for a graduate course called Theory and Audience Analysis. For the course, I will be posting weekly questions and follow up analysis about the various readings we are assigned.

I agree with the points Jane McGonigal makes in “Reality is Broken” about the positive psychology of games. The four traits of games: goals, rules, feedback and voluntary; do seem like the perfect recipe for emotional activation, something that is often missing from the reality of daily lives. And I love Brian Sutton-Smith’s quote that, “the opposite of play isn’t work. It’s depression.” The question that keeps coming up for me is: why is playing games the solution?

I am admittedly not a big game player. I prefer card games with friends/family rather than individual or multi-player digital games. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t gotten addicted to games in the past. I spent an entire semester in college obsessed with Kingdom Hearts, which was my first exposure to that kind of gaming, and the two Bs I received that semester are likely related to the amount of hours I put into the game. Although, I did eventually lose interest when real life got too busy and never completed the game. I have Angry Birds and Words with Friends on my Android phone, but I view them largely as things to spend the time when I am waiting for something (doctor’s office, long lines, airport).

I agree with McGonigal’s assertion that for many reality lacks stimulation, satisfaction and the proper amount of rewards. I also see the value of playing games to fulfill when these needs aren’t met. But I wonder if the problem with reality isn’t that it is broken, but rather how we perceive it?

What if the philosophy of gaming was brought into reality rather than using games to fulfill these absences in our every day lives? Could we implement goals and feedback systems into our reality? What if we lived our lives with the same bravado that we have when we play games? If the opposite of play is depression, and we likely want to avoid depression, than wouldn’t it make sense to make our reality, our work, our daily lives where we play?

At first this might seem unrealistic, as we are programmed as a society to put up with a daily grind and value extrinsic rewards, the American Dream, before recognizing or considering our intrinsic worth. However, could it be possible to make work play? Isn’t that what happens when we do what we love? The idea of “Fiero” and satisfaction are not exclusive to gaming. I personally have had more triumphant, fist-pumping moments over the past few weeks than I can remember having in a while. I left an unsatisfactory lifestyle to pursue more education, and for me conquering the small tasks during the iMedia program learnings are the rewards that are leading me to my current goal of a Master’s degree.

Since I have only read the first quarter of McGonigal’s book, I don’t know if she addresses these ideas later on, but this first part comes right out and calls gaming the “solution” to our broken reality, which isn’t a concept I am ready to accept … yet. There is still more to read!

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