Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world

The next reading group session on Gamification at Leuphana’s Inkubator will be about Jane McGonigal’s text Reality is Broken.

In this TED talk she explained how gaming can save the world…
Jane McGonigal TED talk

…or at least make it a better place.

From an academic perspective I believe it is way too easy to notice the deterministic approach McGonigal is replicating here. Video games (seen as an abstract undistinguished entity) can save the world (which world? and according to which ideology is this idea of a ‘better’ condition been decided?). Beyond the marketing talk, there is however an interesting concept of measuring and (self)regulating life in order to ‘fix problems’. Gaming becomes a tool to take care of the self and, through this process, also make a positive impact on the world. This is particularly clear in Jane McGonigal’s game Super Better, a ‘game for change’ that rewards the player for achieving goals such as eating healthy food and doing physical exercise.

An interesting critique has been proposed by journalist Steven Poole, in this article on Edge magazine, and then again a few days later in the same magazine. Against McGonigal’s argument that life is too easy, and needs to be filled by arbitrary obstacles, Poole argues that this is obviously not true for many of us, whose life is indeed already quite difficult. He compares McGonigal’s ideas on gaming with Richard Hofmeier’s game CartLife, a simulation of the life of street vendors. Poole says that Hofmeier, turning the difficult lives of immigrant members of the American working class into a game, potentially affects the player in a much more profound way than what gamification can ever promise.

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