Jane McGonigal: Games Teach Us To Have Epic Ambitions

Jane McGonigal discusses the skills we learn from gaming and how can they help us enhance, rather than detract from our ambitions as humans.  

What's the Big Idea?


Jane McGonigal argues that games are not a waste of time. In fact, she argues, "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."

What are these types of skills and how can they help us enhance, rather than detract from our ambitions as humans? 

Watch the video here:

What's the Significance?

If you are a gamer, you may have been told that what you love to do is a waste of time, you are probably addicted to it, and you might have more aggressive tendencies as a result. Jane McGonigal says that message needs to change, and responds to what she says are the following myths about gaming.

Are games addictive?

McGonigal says that games simply offer us something that "the real world sometimes does a terrible job of offering us." Games are addictive insofar as the provide something "that we crave most," 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."

Don't violent games make us more aggressive in real life?

McGonigal argues that violent games that require strategy and cooperation with other players are "actually honing skills of cooperation, not skills of violence." These games require you to work with and communicate with your teammates. "The actual effort involved is highly collaborative, highly trustworthy, highly social," says McGonigal. 

In fact, McGonigal lists a number of skills that she says are prevalent in several generations of gamers. These are:

  • Resilience
  • Perseverance
  • Grit and determination
  • Epic ambition
  • Collaboration
  • How can these skills be applied to the real world?

    Think Like a Gamer

    While games are escapist, McGonigal sees them as training for real life. She says we can use the "gamer way of thinking" to tackle global challenges like climate change, and curing cancer, and overcoming political corruption." In other words, McGonigal says gamers are primed to do "extraordinary things in their real lives."

    This past month, Big Think has been running a series called Humanizing Technology, which asks the broad question of how technology can empower us, not make us more vulnerable. To view other examples of new and emerging technology that accomplishes this, visit the series here.

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