Jane McGonigal just finished a really interesting panel at SXSW, and not only because in the middle of it she had everyone play “massive multiplayer thumb wrestling.” (That reminds me; I need to wash my hands.)
The talk was called “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better,” which is the name of her book and the sweet spot of panels at SXSW: Everything would be so much better if we all played more games.
I emerged much less skeptical of this idea, principally because she cited scientific studies throughout that show how playing games positively effects people’s emotions and well-being.
One of her key points is that while there isn’t any correlation between playing violent games and violence in real life, there is research that indicates games that foster cooperation and “pro-social” behavior also foster such behavior in real life.
One study, she said, concluded that children who play cooperative games like Super Mario Sunshine end up helping each other more with schoolwork and other tasks. (The exact finding is that playing a game like this for 25 minutes increases time spent helping others in real life by three times during the next week.)
“Games aren’t changing how violent we are in real life, but they are changing how cooperative we are,” she said. “Is it possible that instead of bringing out the worst in us, which is what we’ve been told … they’re actually bringing out the best in us?”
In another study, people who played music genre games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero were found to play real instruments more. Such games increased real music playing for 67 percent of people. It was slightly higher for people who already played musical instruments.
Her takeaway: games “inspire us to tackle things we want to achieve in real life.”
Later in the talk, she described games as “unnecessary obstacles we volunteer to tackle” and discussed how they create “eustress,” which is like stress, but has positive effects. That’s why when you see people playing games, they look stressed out, but they’re also smiling.
When we tap into our gamer powers, we can achieve more, McGonigal said. “We can be in real life the same people we are in a game.”
She made a case for taking gamers out of their virtual worlds and trying to get them to play games that have an impact in the real world. I’ll explore this more in another post and see what that could mean for news.
Filed by Steve Myers