Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Reality is Broken: And Video Games are Salvific

I was a gaming addict before games were social. Through most of my middle and high school years (and my first year of college, after which I gave up gaming), I played way more video games than I'd like to admit. These were the old flat screen Macintosh and Apple games--Loderunner, Conan, Bard's Tale, Might & Magic. Some were video games, some puzzle games, some role playing. I also spent time playing garden variety games like Tetris, and in my first year of college, I discovered truly social text-based games called MUDs--multi-user dimensions. One such MUD I played non-stop during J-term is actually where one of my best friends of that time met his wife. I was best man in his wedding. She was in Texas. He was in Iowa. They met on-line, then on the phone, then in person. And that game in which they met was the old school form of gaming, completely text-based. Man, I'm old.

Jane McGonigal has written the perfect book for someone like myself who is still interested in gaming but leery of getting back into it. In consecutive chapters she describes the most popular games of today and shows why they matter, games like World of Warcraft, Farmville, Halo 3, Lexulous, and so on. But the book is much more than a catalog of games and how to play them. It's more of a philosophical treatise on the nature of gaming with a significant pop psychology and social commentary component. She's interested in things like happiness, sociality, satisfaction, and creativity.

In fact, the greatest contribution of the book is to reverse the terms. Typically games are seen as an escape from reality. But McGonigal sees them as potentially a shaping influence ON reality. She wants to see us play games that make the real world a better place.

That's an intriguing enough of a thesis to hook me into reading the whole book. It may be a bit over-the-top in the "games can save the world" cheering, but she has a worthwhile point that is seldom articulated. And given that so many of us are gaming, exploring how gaming will shape our world is necessary. This is definitely the book to read first on that journey.

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