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Book Review:"Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World”

Updated on June 29, 2015

McGonigal Jane is a digital game designer who has been recognized as one among the earliest researchers and game designers who initiated the inquiry for positive digital game values in the modern-day world. In light of brisk growing realm of optimistic psychology, her book Reality is Broken did stretch her prominent discovery of how digital games positively contribute to the sense of a person’s wellbeing. In addition, the book has also focused on how gaming activities tend to improve the quality of social life quality. The author has also discussed how games function as podium to provoking the political and civic awareness of people[1]. In essence, the significance of games in social life and the general wellbeing of individuals cannot be overemphasized.

“Reality is Broken” makes it very clear that humanity has began facing the same question. Almost 3 billion hours of digital games are played on a weekly basis in the world. Human effort, relationships, identities and attention has shifted towards the artificial world that is designed to expressively enthrall and entertain us. The question is what does all this imply, and what do we learn from it?

McGonigal argues that many people in today’s perspective suffer from a primal and vast hunger. Not hunger for food, but for better and more engagement. She believes that games offer so much more than solipsistic retreat. The major insights in “Reality is Broken” are then not very much technological but psychological[2]. No event, life circumstances, outcome or object can deliver complete happiness to us. In this respective, individuals must therefore, make their own happiness by working hard in activities, which provide their own reward. In this light, electronic games are not just a form of art or a medium. Rather, they are potent engines, which enhance and create emotional experience, which makes our lives better.

In this book, McGonagall is precise and persuasive in explaining how digital games can transform our approach to the things, which we know we should do. She claims that people crave for satisfying work that allow them to be optimistic about their own chances to succeed. This includes being socially connected; and allows them to experience wonder, curiosity and awe. This craving extends beyond simple definitions of happiness. Similarly, it might be helpful for people to work collectively, maintain optimism against all odds, and keep in mind that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

In explaining the concept, McGonigal has employed various examples including the use of Foldit a game, which uses the spatial reasoning of players to model three dimensional protein structures, and World without Protein, her own game that creates mutual solutions to fossil fuel exhaustion. Nevertheless, her account of how to make one’s own happiness is a pragmatic and visionary appeal. It does not come as a surprise that game designers are not the only people who have tried changing the world through incentives and inspirational concepts. She also tries to show how games expose the startling insubstantiality of daily experience. She argues that work undertaken within virtual worlds often feels meaningful than modern life work and claims most of peoples life’s are not real by a half.

Despite not having empirical evidence for her arguments, the innovative work of McGonigal surely deserves the attention of researchers. It reconciles the paradoxical relationship among games, social change and the well-being of individuals from the perspective of a game designer. As a target book at the public, this book is easy to understand and well written. By including specific examples in its theoretical explanation, it becomes more digestible and interesting .While the salience of some points surely needs to be increased; the book provides a rather excellent beginning and a refreshing perspective on digital gaming.


[1] McGonigal Jane. Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, Brilliance Audio Unabridged edition (Jan. 1 2012), ISBN-13: 978-1455832910

[2] ibid

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