Jane McGonigal: The thing I’m most passionate about right now is changing how we talk about games and how we talk about gamers. We have a number of generations who have grown up being told that they have wasted their time or wasted their lives playing games – people like me, who adore games and feel like the best versions of ourselves when we play. And we’re told that it’s a waste of time, that we should have been doing something else. Well, we didn’t do something else, and kids today aren’t doing something else. Kids are playing more hours per week than any generation before. And instead of just ringing our hands and telling people that what they love is bad for them, I think we need to change that message. We need to look at what games are doing for gamers, the skills that we’re developing, the relationships that we’re forming, the heroic qualities that we get to practice every time we play, like resilience, like perseverance, and grit, and determination, like having epic ambitions and the ability to work with other players, sometimes thousands of other players at the same time.
There are a couple of concerns that come up often when we talk about video games. The first is addiction, and that’s definitely a real problem. What I’ve discovered is that games do a better job, in many ways, of providing the things that we crave most, you know, whether it’s a sense of satisfying hands-on work where we can really see the outcomes of our actions, or a chance to succeed and get better at something, to start out being really bad and then have this sense of mastery as we get better and better. Gamer addiction is not about, necessarily, the quality of the games being somehow fundamentally—they just grab us, and we can’t escape—, it’s really about what they offer us that the real world sometimes does a terrible job of offering us. And it is, hopefully, our goal to take those things that we get from games and find ways to have them in our real lives, too.
The other big concern that people have about games is violence, of course. There is no evidence that gaming makes you more violent. In fact, a study came out just last week showing that gamers who play violent games that require strategy with your teammates or cooperation with other players to beat the bad guys are actually much more cooperative in the game and in real life, that they’re actually honing skills of cooperation, not skills of violence. This makes perfect sense because when you’re playing a game with other players, you’re not actually being violent, right? You have to actually work with the other players. You have to trust them to finish the game. You have to work with your teammates. You have to communicate. There’s no actual violence involved, right? The actual effort involved is highly collaborative, highly trustworthy, highly social.
So, the message needs to be this is training for real life. You know, yes, games are escapist in that we do get to escape reality when we play them, but they’re not just escapist. They’re also returnist. We return to our real lives with real ways of thinking about what we’re capable of, real ways of solving problems more creatively. And this is the great news for the gamer generations, that we have spent our lives planting this seed, planting this capability, and now we can take those skills and abilities to real challenges, whether they’re things like overcoming concussions the way that I used my gamer way of thinking to deal with that or tackling global challenges like climate change, and curing cancer, and overcoming political corruption. There are games to do all of these things now that you can play, you can bring your gamer abilities and help save the real world. So if you have a gamer in your life, or if you are a gamer, the good news is you are ready, they are ready to do extraordinary things in their real lives.
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd