Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Can a Video Game Change Your Life?

What's the Big Idea?


Up up down down left right left right B A start. Press these buttons in succession while playing any one of the more than 60 video games which recognize it and heavenly rewards will rain down upon you, from extra lives to infinite ammo to full-on God mode. Originally invented as a testing tool by a programmer who couldn't beat the game he was designing (Gradius), the Konami code has since found a lasting place in the geek lexicon as the cheat-of-cheats. It's the gamer equivalent of "calling on a higher power."

But gaming can also teach us to draw on our inner power, says Jane McGonigal, the designer behind Evoke, World Without Oil, and Superstruct. McGonigal's games don't come on a CD-rom or cartridge, and you can't buy them in a store. They're events -- alternate realities that invite players to tackle real world problems through simulation and interplanetary collaboration. "All of these things that are tough and real challenges that we face, that maybe we can face better with that heroic optimism and curiosity that we have when we play our favorite games," she says.

Watch the video:

What's the Significance? 

We spend a collective seven billion hours a week playing games. Why? We love to be challenged. Games do not deplete us or divert our attention from the more important things in life (what's more important than having fun?) or cause us to become violent (a myth, according to McGonigal). Rather, they fulfil an innate human need to overcome obstacles and think creatively. 

Gamers spend 80% of their time failing -- facing loss, fear, and death each time they turn on their monitor or console. But the comparatively low stakes allow them to keep coming back for more until they achieve the sweet taste of virtual victory. "That kind of resilience is probably the number one thing that games cultivate in us when we play them," says McGonigal.

It's an encouraging view -- McGonigal's number one goal in life is to see a game developer win a Nobel Peace Prize -- and one that's grounded in her own personal experience. In 2009, she was rushing to finish up a project when she hit her head on an open cabinet door, suffering a mild traumatic brain injury.

For a year, she was unable to read, write, go running, play typical video games, or do most of the things that had given her a sense of identity. She wondered if she would ever think clearly again.

So she turned her recovery into a game. "I started looking for power-ups – things in my real life that would help me feel stronger or get better and [I'd] do them as many times a day as I could. I would identify the bad guys – the things that I couldn’t do anymore that I was supposed to do less of while my brain was healing.  And then I would report battles, and did I win or fail, and how tough was the battle today?" 

Her allies were her family and friends, who she called to check in with each morning. Slowly, she began to reimagine the devastating loss of her abilities as a quest. Her confidence increased, and with it, her sense of purpose. 

First, her mission was simply to get better. 

Then she realized that she was never going to "get back to normal." Nor did she want to. What she wanted was to get back to extraordinary. "I’ve actually been able to make SuperBetter available to anybody else who might want to play it," she says. "The game is available for free.  And what’s been fascinating to me is watching people show up and play it –  not just for concussions and brain injuries, but to play it for losing weight, and depression, and anxiety, and quitting smoking, and getting over a bad breakup."

There's a reason why we continue to show up and play, despite admonitions to put down the Gameboy and finish our homework. At their best, games make winning seem possible, giving us a glimmer of the kind of promise that is more about seizing the day than hoping for it, the kind of action that is more about creating meaning than increasing productivity.

LIVE ON MONDAY | "Lights, camera, activism!" with Judith Light

Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
Keep reading Show less

Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

A truck pulls out of a large Walmart regional distribution center on June 6, 2019 in Washington, Utah.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
Keep reading Show less

Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

A girl and her mother take an afternoon nap in bed.

Personal Growth
  • We spend 40 percent of our childhoods asleep, a time for cognitive growth and development.
  • A recent study found an association between irregular sleep patterns in childhood and either psychotic experiences or borderline personality disorder during teenage years.
  • The researchers hope their findings can help identify at-risk youth to improve early intervention.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Videos

    Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

    Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?

    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast