Book Review: Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

I just finished reading a fascinating book as part of our elearning guild book club. The book was Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World* by Jane McGonigal.

McGonigal believes that our world be a lot better if we would just lighten up and make life more playful. She uses countless examples as she explains 14 points why games are more enjoyable than reality. She also presents examples how to gamify reality to make work, well…, fun.

I personally think she is right. I am involved in a number of social media games that add enjoyment to a rather routine day. I will comment on my game playing further after I highlight some of the things a learned from reading  Reality Is Broken*. McGonigal points out that

  • We enjoy playing games because we voluntarily elect to take on obstacles. We also enjoy the challenge of hard work.
  • Games such as World of Warcraft provide meaningful work with clear goals and tasks to help achieve those goals. WoW helps us feel productive because we can see immediate feedback in terms of experience points and accumulation of resources.
  • One of the most important lessons from the book is that games teach us how to deal with failure. With each failed attempt, we learn; and therefore improve. The more we participate, the better we get; and the better we get, the less the activity is challenging. We, therefore, continue to seek more challenges.
  • Games are a great opportunity to mentor others. We are happy when we see others such as family and friends succeed. We are also joyful when are able to mentor and therefore benefit from another individual’s success.
  • Gamers enjoy contributing to the big picture whether it is to defeat the big boss or to add to the collective knowledge of the system. For example, Halowiki has 1,000 different sections created by players. WoW gamers created a Wikipedia scale equivalent in two months compared to eight years.
  • By the age of 21, the average individual has spent 10,000 hours playing video games. This is equivalent to being an expert. 10,000 hours is equivalent to going to school from 5-12 and not missing a day. The difference is gamers focus on getting better during their time because they are fully engaged as opposed to just attending school.

I really resonated with chapter 3, which focused primarily on the game of World of Warcraft, and how the game strategies keep individuals hooked into the game. I wrote about this previously in The Flow Experience of WoW.

Our schools tend to have it backward and can learn a lot from game designers. Schools are approaching learning in an unmotivating approach. Everything is an obstacle. Failures count against you rather than help learning. Everyone has to do the same work. None of it is voluntary. Quest to Learn is school designed with game theory in mind.

I have recently discovered with my new Android Thunderbolt that going mobile adds a new level of fun. I am now able to take advantage of my phones features to play some of my favorite games while mobile.

Here are some games I am involved with:

World of Warcraft. This is my favorite game, the one I use to escape for a couple hours each week. However, I do not play in solitary, I actually meet friends I have never met in person, well, at least not until recently. You can catch me on the Sisters of Elune realm, I amTubarks.

Geocaching. Geocaching is one of two geolocating games I play. Geocaching is a treasure hunt that is global. “There are 1,454,423 active geocaches and over 5 million geocachers worldwide” ( It is a great opportunity to get out and visit place you would not normally visit. I am disappointed to realize that I have not played in a long while. Here is my profile nonetheless.

Foursquare. Foursquare is the other geolocating game I play. “By “checking in” via a smartphone app or SMS, users share their location with friends while collecting points and virtual badges” ( Here is my virtual scoreboard.

Chorewars. My wife and I started a game of Cchorewars, and it has been surprisingly fun. The basic idea is to make a game out of household chores.  For each chore you do, you get experience points and virtual rewards. Because of an overly energetic day that my wife had yesterday, she is now kicking my butt.

+1 Me. Plus one me is a program where you can reward others on 37 different attributes. You can send +1 attributes whether or not they are on the plusoneme system. The results can be displayed on a blog or other social media page. As the site says, it is gold stars for adults.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe McGonigal is right that Reality Is Broken, and we can do simple things to make life more fun. As she noted in her book, gamers tend to be more collaborative and helpful. My martial arts instructor encouraged me to surround myself with positive people and jettison the people who drag you down. I would like to add, surround yourself with gamers and have more fun.

What do you think?


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