Jane McGonigal is the Director of Game Research & Development at the Institute of the Future, and she also has a game development company called Social Chocolate. She recently published the book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, which is what she focused her DICE 2011 panel on.
She started by asking the crowd what we should do about the fact that we collectively spend three billion hours a week playing video games. Is it worth it? Are we spending these hours in a way that are good for us? That are good for humanity? Or are we throwing it away? "We've convinced ourselves that games are a waste of time. People that don't play games look down on someone who spent their entire weekend playing games, or we ourselves may say we lost an a whole weekend to gaming."
McGonigal's goal is to get that number to 21 billion hours by the end of the next decade. According to her, there are a lot of myths about gaming that need to be dispelled in order for that to happen. People think that gaming has "Games are addicting, and a distraction from real life. This is a dangerous idea for the games industry. We have a perception that games are escapist. Games are absolutely not escapist. We are not escaping our real lives when we play them, we are powering up our own lives."
Research tells her that playing games is one of the single most productive things we can do with our time. They give us positive emotion. Right now, Kids spend 10,000 hours gaming by the time they are 21 years old, which is the same amount of time you spend in school from elementary to college. 99% of boys in the US under age 18 regularly play 5 days a week, and 94% of girls. Parents want to know, does this have side effects? Why yes indeed it does.
Six Side Effects:
1. Games make you have a better relationship with your parents. Kids who play games with parents, especially daughters, are more connected to their parents. They have less social problems outside of school.
2. Kids who play games are three to four times more likely to spend time in the real world helping other people.
3. According to a 2009 industry research study, 67% of 60,000 gamers reported that they were inspired to pick up a real instrument after playing a music or rhythm game. 72% of musicians said it got them back into playing their own instruments. In timely fashion she did mention Guitar Hero, and added: "May it rest in peace."
4. If you play a game with a powerful avatar for at least 90 seconds, then for the next 24 hours you'll feel better about yourself in the real world. In fact, you're more likely to flirty with a more attractive member of the opposite sex after playing as a strong and sexy avatar.
5. When they studied coping mechanisms for soldiers in Afghanistan, the activity that provided the most mental benefit was spending three to four hours a day playing games like Halo and Call of Duty. The only thing that beat it out was working out at a gym, 5 to 6 hours per day, which is a lot harder to get people to do than to play games.
6. Gamers reported the lowest incidence of nightmares. Can games give us superpowers, like lucid dreaming?
Do bring out the more positive side of gaming, McGonigal recommended several "crazy" (her word) ideas to change the industry.
She advocated the springboard effect: understanding that playing games is not escapist. "It's a smart way to tap into natural feelings and abilities. I want gamers to think of themselves as gamers, even in the real world."
After a traumatic head injury, McGonigal's doctor told her she needed to have "positive stress" to assist in the healing process. So, she created a game called Jane the Concussion Slayer. She used her twin sister Kelly as her Watcher (Buffy fans will get a kick out of this entire game) to call her daily and give her quests. Her husband Kiyash served as her Willow, and the role of Xander was her filled by her friend Maurice, with his dogs Natalie and Rommel. It worked so well that's she's fashioned this into an actual game called SuperBetter, which will be the first game from her Social Chocolate company.
She also said that we need radically more cooperative games. To that end she pitched Dhoom Machale - circa 2013: the world's first dancing shooter game. It takes all the flash and pizazz of a Bollywood movie, and incorporate all of the adventure that those movies provide. It has shooting elements, it has dancing elements, and bam: a dancing shooter.
Inspired popular revolution in Egypt, she pitched "Civ D: circa 2014: the first AAA game about surviving a peaceful revolution." Based on the pamphlets handed out to peaceful revolutionaries, she pointed out that these are basically instruction books for Civ D. Peaceful revolution through kindness and understanding.
And finally, a game based on real accomplishment. "Let's play Fallout: China. It's an action RPG that requires increasingly complex conversational Mandarin to advance. The player would learn simple words like ni hao and xie xie, and slowly ramp up to more complex words and sentences. Microhphones and headsets could detect the language skills of the player, and by the end of the game you would be fairly fluent in Mandarin.
It might sound crazy, but it's definitely interesting. It's interested me enough that I'm going to pick up a copy of her book, and at least sleep with it under my pillow in an attempt to get smarter.