After finishing Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, I have to admit I’m a little letdown. I was giving her the benefit of the doubt throughout the book, that maybe in her final section or conclusion she would bring about a better “so what?” moment than she did. (That being said, I suggest you stop reading you haven’t finished the book and would like to have an unbiased reading experience.) I found her argument intriguing during the first two sections, Why Games Make Us Happy and Reinventing Reality, that games can serve a bigger purpose if we harness their power to connect, motivate, and change people. But I expected more from her third section, How Very Big Games Can Change the World. She provided some very interesting examples of games that have the ability to change people’s mindsets and broaden our horizons. I liked hearing about how World Without Oil motivated people to think green, and confront today’s problems in tomorrow’s world in EVOKE. These are great new applications, and it’s really exciting to see games making a meaningful impact on people, but let’s be honest, these games won’t save the world.
I was expecting McGonigal to show how what we learn from games can lead to real-world changes. Whether it be in our workplaces to more effectively motivate and inspire workers, or in the online community, to start putting all of our brainpower to use. It was disappointing to hear that her conclusion was more games. When McGonigal returns to her story about the Lydians, a society that used games to distract them from the misery of a food shortage, we find out that the people decided eventually that the game wasn’t enough and they have to do something else to make things better. Sadly McGonigal, there is your answer: these games are enough to get people thinking, to distract, to fulfill us, and to connect us, but they are not the be-all, end-all for the future. If it could be proven that once new ideas arise from a game like EVOKE or World Without Oil, people start putting these ideas into action (like the seed bank, or the Democratic Central African Republic), then McGonigal might be on to something. But that’s not been the result of any of the world-changing games thus far. Maybe it’s too early to tell whether games can have the kind of outcome I’m looking for. For now, I’ll continue to put my faith in world summits of innovators, online collaborations between think tanks and organizations around the world, and the resurgence of grassroots movements to motivate people to collaborate and inspire one another to change the world.