Philip Cherny's Reviews > Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal
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Feb 21, 12

bookshelves: games, art-and-technology, nonfiction, unfinished
Read on February 21, 2012

Pretty much a quasi-self-help guidebook. I’m sure many readers will find the worldly advice McGonigal has to offers quite useful. Personally, there’s nothing in this book that wasn’t already obvious to me: you can make not-so-fun things fun if you turn them into games. Wow, really? Games are an alternative way to face challenges, conquer tasks in creative ways, develop problem-solving skills, blah blah blah. Okay thanks for the chestnut! I cannot believe you stretched that out into an entire 300ish-page book. The parts of this book that aren’t boring are annoying, sometimes even a bit disturbing.

You can tell she’s a follower of Bernard Suits of whom I’m personally not a fan. Suits places teleological emphasis on games, overlooking the process (what Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”) of play for the end result of winning or losing.

I find it a little scary how optimistic this author is about the wholesale gamification of life: “And so while others might distinguish between ‘serious’ ARGs and ‘entertainment’ ARGs, I prefer to look at all ARGs as having the potential to improve our quality of life” (126). She does not critically address the limitations of alternate-reality games: who does it not work on (I’m sure some people simply do not like games), or what areas in life that really do not lend themselves over to gameification. It’s crap like this that is responsible for all the bullshit corporate “friendly-competition” events designed by HR to make workers more motivated to work efficiently. Nothing wrong with setting goals and achieving them, but I pity those who feel the need to construct teleological aspirations for productivity in order to find life engaging. There is more to life than being productive. I don’t equate happiness and wellbeing with achieving goals and consuming products. Not all tasks should be “conquered.” I guess my issue is this whole book feels extremely “how-to-win-friends-and-influence-people”-esque. “ARGs are designed to make it easier to generate the four intrinsic rewards we crave—more satisfying work, better hope of success, stronger social connectivity, and more meaning—whenever we can’t or don’t want to be in a virtual environment” (125)—this kind of stuff really makes me cringe, but maybe I’m too being sentimental, too sardonic, too harsh towards faux enthusiasm?

Some more really annoying parts:

* “Rai is “questing” before she even gets to school. She’s working on a secret mission, a math assignment that yesterday she discovered hidden in one of the books in the school library. She exchanges text messages with her friends Joe and Celia as soon as she gets up in order to make plans to meet at school early. Their goal: break the mathematical code before any of the other students discover it” (129)

* "So what is stealth social innovation? In the world of EVOKE, social innova- tors tackle social problems with superheroic secrecy and spectacle—public and yet mysterious, like Batman or Spider-Man—in order to capture global imagination so that the solutions have a real chance to catch on and spread virally. EVOKE superheroes are particularly known for applying an innovation method referred to by real development experts today as “African ingenuity.” (334-5)

* “In other words, they became what futurist Jamais Cascio calls “super- empowered hopeful individuals,” or SEHIs. A SEHI (pronounced SEH-hee) is someone who feels not just optimis- tic about the future, but also personally capable of changing the world for the better.” (315) oh and then she contrasts those with terrorists who are “super-empowered angry individuals (SEAI)

This book if full of crap like this that makes you want to bang your head against the wall and scream, ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?

To make matters worse, you would think that in these 300ish pages McGonigal would include some substantial statistical data or empirical to back up her claims, but nah! She’s just going to rely primarily on anecdotal evidence and her own projects. E.g. there does seem to be a motivation gap among students that needs to be addressed. But applying “alternate-reality games” to education is not some panacea to ameliorate all our education problems. In fact it may make matters worse. I recall in public school, I was typically the oddball student who would naturally be interested in the subjects presented in class, until teachers try to dress it up and make it look fun like it wasn’t already interesting, in which case I would instantly get annoyed or bored.

This is more of a rant than a book review, but honestly, I haven't had such an agonizing read in a long time. I close with a link: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology....
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02/21/2012 page 119
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Keir Thomas I understand your frustration. The lack of decent empirical evidence and the "grand tour of Jane's projects" are definitely negative aspects of this book.


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