Sounds a little far-fetched, right? But Jane McGonigal believes that gaming can actually help us make a better world.
I’m always a big advocate for “unplugged” down time, but I do like video games. That’s nothing revolutionary; lots of people do. They are often seen as a guilty pleasure or a waste of time, and sure—gaming can get out of hand—but I was fascinated to read designer Jane McGonigal’s book on how playing video games can actually improve our lives.
In McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken, she talks about how an emphasis on cooperative, rather than strictly competitive, game play can improve our moods and help us be more cooperative and confident in our other relationships. For many people, MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, like World of Warcraft), serve as a major social outlet and source of connection. While McGonigal recommends keeping to less than 21 hours a week, the time spent working together with others to overcome obstacles within these games can translate into significant skills offline as well. She believes that these and other alternate reality games help to build our collective intelligence and “fix” the way we look at reality.
In her Ted Talk, she talks about how gaming is going to help us learn how to solve the larger problems in the world:
If McGonigal is correct, then our epic wins while gaming will help us learn how to be better at dealing with reality as well.
A few basic takeaways from Reality is Broken on making gaming a useful habit instead of a time-waster:
1. Give yourself a limit of 21 hours a week.
Studies found that after 21 hours, the psychological gains began to be outweighed by the time taken away from other healthy habits and face to face interaction with people.
2. Playing with family and friends have greater benefits than playing with strangers.
Playing against people you have an off-line relationship and rapport with serves to enhance this sense of cooperation. While single-player games have their own benefits, McGonigal recommends spending at least half of your weekly gaming time playing as a social activity.
3. Playing face-to-face with friends and family is better than just playing with them online.
A fun and fascinating example of this is the series of charity marathons put on by Speed Demos Archive. The cooperation and camaraderie are obvious as they cheer each other on, but the really inspiring part is seeing that they have done this in order to raise money for various charities. In this case, gaming saving the world has a more immediate component; the 2013 Awesome Games Done Quick raised nearly $500 million for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.
4. Cooperative gameplay has more overall benefits than competitive gameplay.
While both teach and strengthen specific skill sets, the research has shown that cooperative gameplay has the greatest benefits in terms of translating to offline relationship and work place skills. It’s a small but significant shift in the way we look at gaming. Rather than seeing this as a solitary time, it can actually help strengthen and foster greater social skills and the ability to work cooperatively.
5. Creative games have special positive impacts.
Games where we create or design can help unlock and awaken our creative potential in other areas. This is quite possibly my favorite aspect of gaming. Got writer’s block? Stuck on a problem you can’t quite figure out? I find that letting go of it and creating in this other realm is a great way to tap into and open up new ways of looking at the rest of my work—and life in general.
So whether you never play video games, play once in a blue moon or are an avid gamer, it’s worth considering that the time you spend is not time wasted, but can be an effective tool to help you change the world. Or at the very least, wake up parts of your creative brain you might have otherwise forgotten.
Photo Credit: Child of Eden/Youtube Screenshot