Thumbs up for Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McDonigal. Psychology.
Though I find computer games tedious, like most people I love games in general – card, board, word; scavenger hunts; even things like crossing a book read off a list (which is totally like leveling up, except better). Jane McDonigal’s book defines what makes a game a game, explores how games fulfill human psychological needs that are difficult to meet in real life, and gives some examples of how we can shape real life to be more like a game in order to increase both subjective human happiness and create an objectively better society. This could well have been another shallow work of pop psychology trying to excuse all of the hours the author has spent playing WoW; instead I found it fascinating, thoughtful, and illuminating. I still hold that creating new things is, over the long term, a far more satisfying game than racking up kills or collecting magical objects, but now I have a significantly better understanding of why the hell my creative and intelligent friends would pay actual money to battle digital elves. And, just as important, I also feel that I have added weapons to my armory in the battle to get goals accomplished in the real world.
In Scrabble, your goal is to spell out long and interesting words with lettered tiles. You have a lot of freedom: you can spell any word found in the dictionary. In normal life, we have a name for this kind of activity: it’s called typing. Scrabble turns typing into a game by restricting your freedom in several important ways. To start, you have only seven letters to work with at a time. You don’t get to choose which keys, or letters, you can use. You also have to base your words on the words that other players have already created. And there’s a finite number of times each letter can be used. Without these arbitrary limitations, I think we can all agree that spelling words with lettered tiles wouldn’t be much of a game. Freedom to work in the most logical and efficient way possible is the very opposite of gameplay. But add a set of obstacles and a feedback system – in this case, points – that shows you exactly how well you’re spelling long and complicated words in the face of these obstacles? You get a system of completely unnecessary work that has enthralled more than 150 million people in 121 countries over the past seventy years.
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