“This is true. I believe this.” This statement did not stop ringing in my ear as Jane McGonigal proclaimed that video games will save the world. While I support her endeavor to harness the dedication that gamers have to solve real world problems, I could not get over her blurred line between truth and belief.
As a game designer it makes sense that McGonigal would justify her time spent working on games. When working in a field in which the product is pure entertainment, the division between those who can devote 10,000 hours to online game play in their first 21 years and those who do not even make it to that age becomes alarming evident. Because of this, I felt that her platform seemed rooted in a sense of guilt and an anxiety about letting games stand in their purest form. Instead she attempts to rectify the appalling fact that we collectively waste so much time, by turning that time into a positive that we can fully and effectively take advantage of.
Here is where her blurred lines between fact and belief come into play. Although she may have well articulated the strengths of gamers, her conclusion on the application of these skills remains in the real of idealism, not a pragmatic approach. She sums up the average gamer as a super-empowered, hopeful individual. Great, now even if I agree that this description is applicable in the context of the game world, there is no way any of these attributes can fully translate to the world outside.
McGonigal’s only evidence comes in the form of three example games she has designed. All three involve some sort of extreme world problem that the players must use creative problem solving to solve, and in turn, she hopes this process will transpose to the real world. However, the differences between these games and those that boast massive gamer dedication seem astonishing. Yes, in McGonigal’s games the concept of an “epic” goal to save the world is present. Yes, there is an element of social fabric and cooperation. But what about the distinct success of fantasy games as opposed to heavily realistic games? Gamers enjoy inhabiting a world different from their own. And what of the fact that most successful games do not foster creative problem solving, but instead a limited sense of success by solving a problem with a set solution or series of solutions that each player discovers instead of invents?
Ultimately, some good can come out of McGonigal’s games, but I really doubt they have the appeal to cause any sort of mass mobilization of gamer’s strengths in the real world. My biggest issue lies in combatting McGonigal’s notion that a wide array of collaborators are not available to fulfill epic missions in the real world. They are! This cynicism is only a product of diminishing dreaming and passion for real world issues caused by things like video games that draw us away from developing real world interests.