Book Review: Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal

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Reality Is Broken

Title: Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better And How They Can Change The World
Authors (Editor): Jane McGonigal
Publisher: Penguin Press
Release Date: January 20, 2011
Price: $26.95
Rating: Two thumbs up, 95/100, A, **** 1/2 out of five.
Pros: It’s written to try to appeal to everyone. Compelling arguments, compelling ideas for fixing reality,
Cons: Unfortunately it won’t grab everyone’s attention
Overall: It’s a very impressive book. Just keep an open mind if you’re not a gamer.

Being a gamer is quite an achievement regardless of any stigma that society might put on games. We have a way to fill our unused time. We have a means to relax that some people either neglect or hold with some level of contempt. But does gaming fill any actual need that isn’t filled by society? Can gaming be used to make not only our own quality of life, at least in terms of happiness, but the world itself better?

That, simply put, is the premise of Jane McGonigal’s book Reality Is Broken.

Jane McGonigal is the Director of Game Research and Development at the Institute for the Future. She has developed innovative Alternate Reality Games (ARG) including World Without Oil and Evoke. Her work has been featured by multiple different media outlets including The Economist, Wired and The New York Times. BusinessWeek called her one of the most important innovators to watch. She has also given multiple keynote addresses at multiple functions including the Game Developers Conference.

Game On

One of the best things about this book is that it is written to try to appeal to everyone. It’s a call for change in perspective about gaming as some of the stigmas that society puts on games is that they’re unproductive, a waste of time, stalls social development and are potentially addictive. Well, there is also the fact that it is one of the favorite scapegoats for things like violence.

McGonigal’s view of games is a refreshingly optimistic one. Naturally she’d have an optimistic view of the nature and potential of games, being that she is a game developer who understands both her craft and the people who enjoy it.

Her arguments regarding games, even down to puzzles, are very compelling while also being well-researched. She quotes her own studies but also quotes contemporary psychological and sociological studies going back into the 1970s about the effects of games. She even goes back in historical analysis as far as bringing up Herodotus’s story of the ancient Lydians who got their culture to survive an 18-year famine through creative thinking and the invention of games. Her understanding is of the history of her craft as well as gamers themselves is absolutely incredible. She shows how games can help us overcome hardship, be more confident, build better social connections and ultimately be happier.

McGonigal also brings up different ideas on how to fix reality and make the world a better place. Oddly, and accurately, enough, her ideas revolve around making real life into something more like a game. It actually ties into different ARGs that she’s developed already. It’s something that actually does sound like it could work really well.

Naturally, there will be critics of these fixes. However, in a weird way, even trying to debate the points actually ends up feeling like a bit of game in itself.

Just a Little Wish

Even though it is written for everyone, gamers and non-gamers alike, there’s one unfortunate thing about the book. It won’t grab everyone’s attention.

For a book of this style, it is one of the most accessible books that you can come across. However, accessibility doesn’t necessarily mean that people will either agree, be swayed or even will completely understand all aspects of the book.

If you aren’t a gamer and you approach the book without an open mind, you’ll miss a lot of what the argument, research and proposals are saying.

Read it, Recommend It

The book can best described in two words: very impressive. I love the way McGonigal thinks. The book is hopeful, passionate and intelligent. It has a lot of great ideas to try to get society to think differently about games. If you’re involved in the gaming community in any way, read this book.

If you’re aren’t a gamer, read this book but keep an open mind throughout. You will be surprised at what you will learn if you keep an open mind.

This is probably one of the best newly released books about video games that you get your hands on.

Site [Jane McGonigal] Site [Reality Is Broken] Site [Institute for the Future]

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