Me on Video Games vs. Life

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.

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  • Skullzero96

    Mr. Klavan another outstanding article. There are definitely a few issues with Ms. McGonigal’s argument. The first thing that bothered me was her thousand year effort of community organizing. I think somebody tried to set up a 1,000 year effort in the 1930′s and that definitely did not work out. I am not sure how to explain the issue, but the liberals/progressives/leftists of today are doing everything in their power not to deal with reality. Ms. McGonigal wants to escape into some game world and liberals bash conservatives and try to ignore the reality of Islamic terror. Over the last decade it is been much easier to bash Bush and the right, because let’s be honest nothing is going to happen to you if bash the right. Now, if you try to confront the truth about the current world war, well that can get you killed. As all liberals know there is nothing worth dying for except of course diversity, abortion, and power, and even then the liberals prefer that other people or babies die for them.