First, I would like to thank Lisa for the opportunity to guest post on her blog, it is a great honor to do so.
According to a rough estimate by Jane McGonigal in her new book Reality is Broken, if you were to take the sum of the total hours that humans have spent playing World of Warcraft, it would be approximately 50 billion collective hours or 5.93 million years (which also happens to be approximately the same amount of time that humans have been walking upright).
So why do many people play video games so often? What can we learn from video games to make reality a better place? Are there ways that we could put the real world skills that the millions of game have obtained by playing games players to good use? All three of these topics are addressed in the book.
I have been a gamer for most of my life. One of my earliest memories was sitting at my parent’s Apple II computer with a green monochromatic screen playing Conan: Hall of Volta as a kindergartener. More recently, I have currently logged over 2400 hours playing Guild Wars (please note that many of these hours have been logged while I was still logged into the game, but not actually playing). Despite enjoying my time spent playing video games, I have always had a nagging sense that my video game playing has been largely a waste of time.
In addition to a long time gamer I have recently been trying to look at my life to see how I can use my talents and skills to benefit other people. I was very interested in the notion that the skills I have acquired by playing video games may be used to help others. Because of this, I had a very optimistic outlook on what this book might hold.
Games seem to fulfill some basic need that we are not obtaining in reality, whether it be the elation of overcoming a difficult and otherwise unnecessary obstacle, permitting a gamer to accomplish more satisfying work, immersing oneself on an epic scale, or a list of other such basic needs. Games in general help us to fulfill those needs in our lives and as such, may help us to enjoy reality more.
The author then discusses that we have millions of people playing video games throughout the world. This is possibly a huge and relatively untapped resource that the world has. What if we were able to tap into a gamer’s desire to play games to help the common good of society? Many people are already doing this. The author mentions http://www.freerice.com as one such website. Through the collective efforts of gamers and the sponsors, http://www.freerice.com has donated almost 80 billion grains of rice to the UN World Food Programme. I would urge you to play http://www.freerice.com next time you would otherwise play solitaire or some other game pre-installed on the computer to pass a few minutes.
The last section of the book looks into how we can use the brains of gamers and the abilities that they have gained from playing games, to try and solve the world’s problems. Not surprising, there are people already doing this too. A few games have set out to try and see how gamers would react to certain world catastrophes and other such events, in order to collaborate and figure out possible strategies for either averting or solving these worldwide problems.
My one critique of the book would be that many of the world changing games that are mentioned in this book have long since ended and while you can still read about these games online, it is not the same as actually playing them. However, with that said I am still interested in researching any future games which may come up in order that I may participate in them.
Personally, the big take away from this portion of the book was that I do not look at my real world daily achievements the way that I look at the achievements I have in my games. Since starting to read this book, I have tried to look at each assignment I finish at work, or the dinner I make or the myriad of other daily accomplishments as an achievement in and of itself. While that may not be the main thrust of the book, it has brought a lot more happiness into my life and I am grateful for that.
In summary, your video game playing has not been a waste of time, maybe an untapped resource, but not a waste of time. It would be better to think of the time you’ve spent playing the video games as training you for games which have the potential to change the world. Now is an exciting time as we may be able to collectively put our gaming skills to good use.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has played video games at all, or to anyone who is looking at trying to change the world (I think almost everyone probably falls into either one or both of these categories).
Alan Smith is married to the brilliantly talented Danielle aka The1stdaughter at There’s A Book and has two crazy kiddos, Turkeybird and Littlebug. When he’s not chasing them around or curtailing his wife’s incessant need to “be involved” in everything possible, he loves playing basketball, serving at his church, and playing online games. Oh and the rest of the time, he’s an attorney for a small banking law firm on the Central Coast of California.
To enter the giveaway for Reality is Broken, simply leave a comment on this post by Wednesday, Feb. 2nd. The giveaway is limited to US/Canada only (sorry).
For more information on Jane McGonigal and Reality is Broken, visit www.realityisbroken.com.
For more thoughts on Reality is Broken, check out the other blogs on the tour: