In her book “Reality is Broken,” which I am currently reading for my Theory and Audience Analysis class, Jane McGonigal brings up the idea of happiness to illustrate the difference between the ‘real’ world and the ‘game’ world. Happiness, according to the scholars and thinkers (Elizabeth Gilbert, really??) she cites, it the result of hard, satisfying work. This results in a feeling of successful accomplishment, is usually achieved with some level of social interaction, and finally connects us to some larger meaning. McGonigal believes that this full definition of happiness is so rarely found in our ‘real’ lives that we search for, and find it in games. Her point is that by integrating some of what game developers have learned about happiness into our real-life jobs, we will be happier, more productive people.
While I am all for making work more meaningful and more enjoyable, I’m not sure McGonigal has identified a construct that applies to every person and every instance of happiness. What she has identified is a simplification of happiness as a motivator, which as she says, may prove a useful tool . Happiness is more than just the four factors McGonigal identified, since it plays such a large role in our decision-making process. Think about any time you chose a subject in school or a career path. Usually the first questions are, “what interests you?” and “what makes you happy?” Happiness comes from in our inner selves, our desires, motivators, interests, and needs, than McGonigal gives us credit for.
But examining McGonigal’s definition and its implications in her argument does raise some interesting revelations about games and why we play them. Games provide us with not an escape, but an outlet through which we can find fulfillment we are missing in our everyday lives. An older synonym for “fun” or “recreation” was the word “divert” which we use today to mean “to go around” or “distract.” Instead of saying some activity was fun or engaging, it was described as “diverting” or rather, distracting from what would otherwise be a dull time. Games exist as a distraction, not as a replacement for reality. This interpretation of games is contrary to the misconception that I had as a non-gamer, that video and computer games were meant as an alternative to reality, and therefore potentially harmful to avid players. Through McGonigal’s writing, I’ve come to a better understanding of games and their potential for innovation and good in the world. Though I may not learn anything about happiness from a game, I agree with McGonigal that the technology and psychology behind them will provide important innovations in the future.