February 21, 2012
Tech futurist and game designer Jane McGonigle on how computer games can help the fight against AIDS, heal disabilities, increase optimism, and make us better people.
There are 183 million active computer game players in the United States. The average young person will spend 10,000 hours gaming by the age of 21. More than 5 million “extreme” gamers in the U.S. play an average of 45 hours a week. Videogames took in about $15.5 billion last year.
Most of what you hear about this phenomenon is doom and gloom – people becoming addicted, isolated and socially inept. Some worry that gaming is pulling people away from productive work, fulfilling relationships and real life. But game designer Jane McGonigal says the reason for the mass exodus to virtual worlds is that videogames are increasingly fulfilling genuine human needs. In a very popular TED talk — and in her first book, Reality Is Broken, just out in paperback – she suggests we can use the lessons of game design to fix what is wrong with the real world.
Jane McGonigal is the director of Game R&D at the Institute for the Future and creative director of Social Chocolate. BusinessWeek called her “one of the ten most important innovators to watch.” Oprah magazine thinks she’s “one of the twenty most inspiring women in the world.” And MIT Technology Review named her “one of top 35 innovators changing the world through technology.”
Terrence McNally interviewed McGonigal for AlterNet by phone from her home in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Terrence McNally: I see four strands in what I’ve read about you and your work: Buddhism, games, positive psychology, and entrepreneurism. How do you describe your path?
Jane McGonigal: That’s a pretty good breakdown, I like it. I think, first and foremost, I try to help people unleash their real-life superpowers to bring out the best in them so they achieve epic wins lead extraordinary lives, and be of extraord