Gaming: “The Opposite of Play Isn’t Work—It’s Depression”

Huffington Post

Are video games good for you? Can they encourage creativity, problem-solving, and a sense of community? Or are they just a brain-melting time-suck? Jane McGonigal, a longtime game designer and Director of Game & Research Development at the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit research center, thinks it would benefit the human race if more people spent time playing video games. 

“I believe that if we want to survive the next century on this planet,” she said during a 2010 TED Talk, “we need to aspire to play games online.” She also spoke at the Women Presidents' Organization 20th Annual Conference in Orlando on May 4–6 2017, titled The Engagement Economy, "Most of us would rather not escape given a chance we will choose reality"

Something good could happen at any moment

Games train their players to solve complex problems and work with others in order to score victories. “When we’re in game worlds, I believe that many of us become the best versions of ourselves,” she said. 

To arrive at that conclusion, McGonigal studied games such as World of Warcraft, in which millions of players collaborate online in order to overcome challenges. That game, like many others, requires go-getters: you’re not sitting around wringing your hands over a problem, you’re picking up a mythical axe and making sure that a dragon no longer threatens the nearest village. 

With Augmented Reality, we have a “built-in collaboration radar”

There are psychological downsides to gaming, of course, including the fact that real life doesn’t deliver the clean victories that one finds in video-game worlds. Single-player games can also isolate people rather than compel them to collaborate. The rise of virtual reality (VR), in which people interact with a self-contained virtual world through a headset that excludes nearly all exterior stimuli, also raises the chances of self-seclusion.

Fortunately, augmented reality (AR) games show how games could become even more collaborative and communal in the future. The first big AR hit, Pokemon GO, used players’ smartphone cameras to display digital creatures on real-life backgrounds. As players ran around their neighborhoods looking for fantastic creatures using a built-in radar, they gathered in groups and shared information. It’s easy to imagine a crowd of people leveraging that same kind of energy and purpose to solve real-life problems.

“The engagement economy”

And therein lies the opening for businesses, nonprofit institutions, and other organizations to harness the power of gaming. Fitness companies such as Nike and FitBit, for example, rely on what’s known as “gamification” to guide the human behavior. FitBit’s app, informed by the tracking bracelet, offers fun badges whenever users hit certain physical milestones like a number of steps walked; there’s also a scoreboard that ranks friends, similar to what you might find in a video game. 

Gamifying everyday tasks could spike participant motivation. And what if such playful approach was accessible in the workplace? Perhaps, as a result, people would be more engaged and stimulated to accomplish achievable results.

McGonigal has a solid point to make: whether helping people to develop problem-solving skills or simply allowing them to get more fit and make new friends, games have a lot of positive things to add to folks’ lives. A playful life, you might argue, is also a productive one. Whether as employers or as parents, we must understand this reality and create a more engaging and satisfying one.

Jane McGonigal, Director of Game & Research Development, Institute for the Future: 
In her TED talk, she shares how alternate reality games, such as Pokemon GO, are driving unprecedented economic engagement and changing consumer behavior. 
Watch her talk here.

Gaming: “The Opposite of Play Isn’t Work—It’s Depression” article by Janet Odgis, originally posted to the Huffington Post Blog. See it here