Fellow gamers, let’s talk about how gaming can change the world.
Game designer and author Jane McGonigal has a lot to say on this subject. In fact, she has written an entire book on the subject: Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. In this book, McGonigal provides “happiness hacks” by using games to improve our lives instead of escaping from them.
In the past, I always considered my time spent gaming as a way to escape the drudgery of life. School was boring, life was somewhat unfulfilling, and I never cared much for social engagements growing up. But in games I could experience what I craved in life: social interactions on a topic I was incredibly interested in, cooperation to achieve hard goals, structure that came with the rules and bounds of video games, and achievable goals that made me feel productive. I never knew how much games were doing for me.
In her 2010 TED talk, McGonigal claims, “Gamers are super-empowered hopeful individuals. These are people who believe that they are individually capable of changing the world. And the only problem is, they believe that they are capable of changing virtual worlds and not the real world. That’s the problem that I’m trying to solve.”
Even if this is true, I believe that games are already changing the world simply by changing our minds. In class, we learned that you can’t change someone’s behavior, but you can attempt to change someone’s mind and therefore help them to change their own behavior. Games are showing us the importance of working together, achieving small tasks in order to accomplish big goals, and how strongly we crave feeling significant.
For an example, let’s talk about Blizzard’s World of Warcraft (2004) since I’m a huge WoW nerd. In the world of Azeroth, my charater (the fluffball chicken monster in the screenshots below) is pretty powerful, but even I can’t take on a huge skeletal dinosaur monster all by my feathery self.
If I tried to defeat this by myself, I’d probably end up looking like that dead guy on the ground to my right. Lucky for me, World of Warcraft has millions of players. I’m not alone even if I am playing by myself.
Within minutes, I can find fellow players who are striving for the same goal and willing to work together to achieve it. Even if this momentary connection is fleeting, the important takeaway from this interaction is the understanding that I am not alone. No matter what I want to accomplish, there will always be people to work with as long as I reach out to find them.
This is just one example, but I believe this idea and countless others etch into the minds of gamers subconsciously to create a new generation of people with altered mindsets ready to work together and improve the world. Now when people encounter hard goals in real life, their brains are structured in a way that makes them want to tackle hardships and take on daunting tasks because their minds have been trained through video games.
McGonigal is right to believe gamers are capable of changing the world, but I believe it is already happening.
So game on and let’s change the world.