- recent reading
Jane McGonigal. Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World
. I like the way Amazon looks at my recent purchases and suggests things--this does throw up a lot of spammy things like erotica (because I downloaded a bunch of freebies, a lot of which featured hilariously awful writing but for erotica purposes I guess I don't care? LOL), but on occasion it tosses me a gem. And this, based on my game design book purchases, is one of the gems.
McGonigal is a game designer and researcher with a Ph.D. in performance studies; it's not entirely clear to me what performance studies are
, but that's all right. Her contention is that gameplay is a harnessable positive force and that (video) gamers spend more time in virtual realities because "reality is broken" and virtual realities provide more fulfilling experiences to gamers in some interesting ways. For example, she contends that people like
failure when it's fun (this was counterintuitive to me, then I realized it was true--one of the funnest, albeit non-gaming, experiences I ever had was when I made a disastrous mash-up of the Angel
theme song "Sanctuary," the main theme to Planescape: Torment
, and "Deionarra's Theme," also from the PS:T
soundtrack by Mark Morgan; the results were hilariously awful but taught me how to write a second draft that was much better), that people will voluntarily do work under certain conditions (positive feedback, clear goals, sense of agency, etc.). She talks about the characteristics of successful games such as Rock Band
and World of Warcraft
, then moves into the more experimental area of games that are designed for real-world impact, from Chore Wars
(and here I will admit that this book inspired me to start an account on Habitica
for productivity hacking) to a simulation thought-experiment, The World Without Oil
, meant to engage people on a real-world problem and look for possible solutions.
This book is slightly dated (©2011) and I am skeptical of some of the game design experiments in their ambition, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I imagine a lot of experimentation will go on as designers and players figure out what's workable. Because McGonigal's goals are ambitious--to harness gameplay as a way to find solutions to real crises in the world--and even if only a few of the experiments are successful, there are a lot
of gamers out there; as she points out, that's a lot of potential agency if people can figure out how to tap into it.
Mostly this makes me want to run out and design games, even though I have other obligations. :p In particular, I have a standing interest in games that distribute agency to the players; I think this dates back partly to my experiences with collaborative teaching/learning in graduate school.  It's incredibly difficult for me to depart from the "top-down" model of teaching/GMing where one person holds the power, although of course things have changed a lot since I first encountered Dungeons & Dragons and there are in fact game designs that make a point of distributing agency in less "traditional" ways, although I regret that I don't have much experience with them for the simple reason that the only in-person RP I get out for these days is Pathfinder Society. Which is fun! But it's definitely more in the traditional vein of tabletop RPGs. =) Anyway, I would love to design a game where it's released into the wild, with a few basic rules, and participants own what happens, with occasional injections of content maybe; I don't know, this is all very preliminary and I still owe Choice of Games an actual game, to say nothing of writing obligations, plus technology prerequisites...but I'll keep my eyes out.
 For those new around here, I got my master's in secondary math education at Stanford University. They are big on collaborative learning and accommodating heterogeneous classrooms. I can expand on this for the curious.