The mission of Scholar Gamers has always been simple. Take something as enjoyable as playing video games and add a layer of productivity to it. Kids need money to get an education. Kids also enjoy playing video games. So, why not allow those same kids to do something they like (playing video games) while working towards something they need (a scholarship to get an education.) But what if we took that idea of using video games as a positive force in the world and applied it to more than just scholarships?Jane McGonigal, Ph.D., the director of game research and development at the Institute for the Future, has been posing this question for a few years now. Her recently published book titled, “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better And How They Can Change The World” hopes to attract the attention of both gamers and non-gamers alike. Her message? That understanding the way games are made and applying those concepts to real-world scenarios can benefit people in ways they never imagined.
On the surface, it sounds hard to believe if not altogether implausible. But consider for a moment what we’re actually doing when we play video games and how it affects us. According to Bernard Suits, a philosopher quoted in McGonigal’s book, “playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” Realize also that all games share four basic, defining traits: Rules, a feedback system, a goal, and voluntary participation. As far as how it affects us, I think that adrenaline rush speaks for itself. Every gamer knows the feeling of accomplishment. That moment when the end-game boss finally goes down and the world is safe once more, thanks in no small part to our heroic, fate-changing actions. For the average gamer, there’s no real-world equivalent to match that sense of satisfaction.
But, as crazy as it sounds, the end-game thrill isn’t actually what keeps us coming back for more. For gamers, it’s not the victory we crave, it’s the thrill of the hunt; the monumental challenges ahead of us that seem just past the brink of possible to overcome. The moments when we feel most content during gameplay are when our brains are working at full force: Figuring out puzzles, using all our skills to slay a difficult foe, or trying to outwit online competitors. In other words, we like to work hard. It makes us feel good. Afterwards, even when the game is turned off, we feel more confident, have a greater sense of self-worth, and take pride in overcoming those unnecessary obstacles. But game designers already know this. These are the ideas they consider when developing our favorite blockbuster titles.
So how does this apply to the real world? Well, if we can find a way to apply these concepts out of game then perhaps we can share our positive attitudes, our sense of accomplishment, our willingness to work hard, and the intrinsic meaning we find in gaming with everyone else. McGonigal suggests trying to run businesses and communities like game designers, and solving real-world problems from the perspective of game theorists. And you know what? I think she may be onto something.