Last Friday’s Wall Street Journal ran my review of Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World:
Ms. McGonigal’s notions about how to enliven what gamers call “RL” (“real life”) run the gamut from shallow to, well, that’s it, really. It’s not that she has nothing interesting to say about the role of videogames in shaping reality; it’s that she has little if anything to say about reality itself. She writes like someone who has never seen a Shakespeare play or volunteered at a soup kitchen or fallen in love or raised a child or said a prayer.
RL, as Ms. McGonigal sees it, has nothing of the romance and excitement that can be found by interacting with an Xbox or PlayStation 3. Her “fixes” are meant to address such issues as:
•”Compared to games, reality is depressing. Games focus our energy, with relentless optimism, on something we’re good at and enjoy.”
•”Compared to games, reality is trivial. Games make us a part of something bigger and give epic meaning to our actions.”
•”Compared to games, reality is pointless and unrewarding. Games help us feel more rewarded for making our best effort.”
In assertions such as these, Ms. McGonigal seems to confuse states of feeling with facts. She speaks, for instance, about the “awe” that gamers feel at the immense make- believe world of “Halo,” an extremely popular first-person shooter in which players wage a “Great War” against an alien empire called The Covenant. Ms. McGonigal says that when Bungie, the game’s creator, announced that “Halo” participants world-wide had scored 10 billion Covenant “kills,” players were carried away by a sense that their actions in the Great War had “meaning.”
While she acknowledges that “Halo” is “only a game,” she goes on to write, rather remarkably: “Just because the kills don’t have value doesn’t mean they don’t have meaning. Meaning is the feeling that we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s the belief that our actions matter beyond our own individual lives.” But no, actually, that’s not what meaning is at all. Meaning is when those feelings and beliefs refer to something that is true. This error consistently undermines Ms. McGonigal’s thinking.
Read the whole thing here.