Game designer Jane McGonigal shows that gaming can change the world
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Crowdstar’s new mobile game app for girls, Top Girl. I was disheartened that a game targeted at girls and careers only allowed you to aspire to be a model and have a boyfriend. After reading the article, a friend – no doubt trying to cheer me up – directed me to the work of Jane McGonigal, a game developer and researcher using gaming in real life to change lives and make the world a better place.
I’m really impressed with the work McGonigal is doing to bring gaming into the real world and use it to tackle real-world problems. And even more so, I’m pleased to be able to write a positive story of using gaming to positively affect real life, rather than training girls to become vacuous fashionistas!
McGonigal, who has a PhD in performance studies and works at the Institute for the Future, argues that it’s not enough to forecast the future – we must be actively engaged in creating it. Through research that crosses over from gaming into psychology, she is interested in tapping into gamers as a human resource who have the potential to change the real world, rather than escape from it. Her work contributes to creating the future by imagining an epic win, then empowering people to use gaming to achieve that win.
Undoubtedly, gaming is incredibly popular, and McGonigal adds that gamers are motivated, hopeful individuals. They want to change the world, but the main problem is that they want to change virtual worlds, not the real world. This is the problem she’s looking to solve, through bringing real world problems into games, and games into the real world.
One game she has created is 2007’s World Without Oil, an online game that simulated a world that had run out of oil. This world was tied in with reality, and encouraged players to imagine their lives without it and change their habits accordingly. The game turned out to be a transformative experience for the players, with many of them continuing these good habits in their post-game lives.
In 2009, McGonigal created the ARG (Alternate Reality Game) SuperBetter. After suffering from a concussion, she didn’t seem to be getting better. So she designed a game to help her tackle the symptoms of her pain, turning her recovery into an epic adventure. She enlisted the help of friends and family to be her sidekicks, and scored points and rewards for each positive step she took.
Playing SuperBetter did have a positive effect on Jane’s recovery from concussion, as the game was focused on the symptoms of her suffering, rather than the pain itself.
If ARGs can have this effect on a physical debilitation, imagine the potential of gaming to solve problems of self-esteem and body image!