Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 4 – Fun Failure and Better Odds of Success

This continues the Readalong by Erik van Mechelen of Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’ with insights from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework. For in-depth discussions of this book and others, join Octalysis Prime.

tl;dr Both serious and casual games bring blissful productivity, one key element of more satisfying work. 


McGonigal explores research from the M.I.N.D. Lab and Nicole Lazzarro, Raph Koster, and and Randolph Nesse to investigate why failure, fun failure specifically keeps us playing games, and how its relationship to better odds of success actually improves our enjoyment of a game (both individually and with others) and gives us hope of better outcomes.


This short chapter kicks off with game researcher Nicole Lazzaro’sfindings that gamers both spend more time failing than succeeding in games AND that they enjoy doing so.

If you examine your own experience, you’ll notice this to be true. When I was first learning to play Starcraft, I lost many of my games on Battlenet before mastering some build orders with Zerg which gave me a fighting chance. Same with Chewss and Go, which I am now just learning.

Super Monkey Ball 2 (which in 2005 was researched by Helsinki’s M.I.N.D. Lab was the focus of the specatcular failures of this action puzzle game. The finding was simple, when players are shown ‘agency’ in the failure to complete a puzzle (by sending the monkey spiinning into space), they feel ownership and control and the prospect of improving the seuquenece on the next effort feels achievable. The game can also draw a laugh, which doesn’t hurt.

I’ve played Super Monkey Ball 2 and can echo this feeling. My brothers and I had a lot of fun exchanging the controller when we fell off the map into outer space, laughing, and then laughing again when our brothers failed, too. We got a lot of CD5 collaboration from helping each other find ways through the obstacles and mazes.

The sense of difficulty matters. The documentary about solo game developers comes to mind, about Super Meat Boy, Indie Game, spends tieme delving into the game design which highlights spectacular failures but also teaches the player new skills in-game.

One other note to take away from Indie Game: The Movie, is that making games and motivationally powerful experiences is hard work. There is a reason great experience designers and game designers can get paid top dollar. But it is also a reminder to us, designers of at minimum our own lives, should give ourselves a break once in a while and realize that our lifestyle design efforts may have some bugs in them 🙂

Fix #4: Better Hope of Success

Compared with games, reality is hopeless. Games eliminate our fear of failure and improve our chances for success.

Even in games which eliminate progress on failure, the player can always still start the game over. This isn’t true in life, or is it?

Here again I must differ slightly in the delivery from McGonigal. While she does invoke Raph Koster’s concept of games being “fun as long as we haven’t master them,” I feel McGonigal is a bit to overt in her depiction of reality as a nearly insurmountable adversity.

Again, I should mention I’ve met McGonigal in person and she was wonderful to speak with. Also, let’s remember that this book, Reality is Broken is in its conclusions precisely about learning from games and applying their design strategies to the real world. 

Next up, hope.

We all hope to if not flourish, then live up to our potential, to be our best self. Here I tend to align with McGonigal’s attention to Randoph Nesse’s research on the evolutionary origins of depression.

She jumps from this research to a claim that ‘today’s best games help us realistically believe in our chances for success.

Games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero are tough to master, and require allies like WoW raids to successfully complete songs.

Rock Band specifically gives players CD5 collaboration, CD2 sense of progress, and CD3 empowerment of creativity and feedback (“let me play the drums this time!”).

Again, I love that McGonigal discusses the 2008 study showing that among the 7,000 players in the study, 67% said they were likely to try learning an instrument. It is this merging between games and reality that is exciting. And it is the difficulty of mastery, the failing toward a goal, and the hope of success that prompted this movement.

What do you think?

Have you ever been inspired to do something in the real world because of a game?

How do you think of failure? Does it scare you? Deter you? Or do you embrace it?

What do you think?

Let me know in the comments or on Octalysis Prime‘s community (paywall).

Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 3 – More Satisfying Work

This continues the Readalong by Erik van Mechelen of Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’ with insights from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework. For in-depth discussions of this book and others, join Octalysis Prime.

tl;dr Both serious and casual games bring blissful productivity, one key element of more satisfying work. 


“Playing World of Warcraft is such a stisfying job, gamers have collectively spent 5.93 million years doing it.”

Erik: This is impressive, and only accounts for playtime between its release in 2004 and 2011, when this book was published.

McGonigal goes on to describe and test her hypothesis of satisfying work (recall the 4 internal or intrinsic motivators in Ch2, one of which was ‘more satisfying work’).

“Blissful productivity is the sense of being deeeply immersed in work that produces immediate o and obvious results. The clearer the results, and the faster we achieve them, the more blissfully productive we feel. And no game gives us a better sense of getting work done than WoW. ”

McGonigal describes Alain de Botton’s take on work (The Pleasures of Sorrow and Work) and Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soul Craft, and finally Martin Seligman, the founding father of positive psychology. to cement her argument.

Continue reading Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 3 – More Satisfying Work

Readalong: Reality is Broken, Chapter 2 – The Rise of the Happiness Engineers

This continues the Readalong by Erik van Mechelen of Jane McGonigal’s ‘Reality is Broken’ with insights from Yu-kai Chou’s Octalysis framework.

tl;dr Autotelic activity is the most intrinsically motivating, giving satisfying work, a hope of being successful, social connections, and meaning.

Summary of Chapter 2 – The Rise of the Happiness Engineers

In this chapter, McGonigal makes the case that autotelic activity could be re-engineered into reality. The reason self-chosen activity is good is because it works within Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow theory to product intrinsic rewards like satisfying work, the hope of being successful, social connections, and meaning.

By marrying the science of happiness with emotional evolution of the gaming industry, we can engineer happiness.

This futurist vision stands in large contrast to the current American Dream story, which largely makes people more unhappy.

Continue reading Readalong: Reality is Broken, Chapter 2 – The Rise of the Happiness Engineers

OP Book Insights: Ch 1, The Characters in the Story (Thinking, Fast and Slow)

As part of Octalysis Prime, Yu-kai provides OP Insights on important research and books in the field of, in this case, Behavior Economics. 
Author asks readers to look at a woman’s photo and states that the reader, without trying, immediately knows the woman is angry. Then he shows a math problem 17 x 24 and asks us to calculate it. He states that the first one is based on System 1 (we immediately know intuitively), and the second one is System 2 (we deliberately have to think about it). Our System 1 immediately knows it is a multiplication problem and that we could likely solve it. Our system 1 would also know what is probably too high or too low. But we wouldn’t know for sure if 568 is correct or not. We have to CHOOSE to engage our System 2 to start solving the problem.
System 1 and System 2 terminology come from psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West.
Intense focusing on a task can make people effectively blind to anything else. When we are focusing on a difficult task of tracking people wearing white shirts from black shirts, we miss a gorilla costume person walking in front of the screen. This is demonstrated in Chabris and Simons’ book The invisible gorilla and demonstrated by Netflix Brain Game.
The counting task and the instruction to ignore the other team causes this. 50% of the people don’t see it, and would not believe at all they would miss something so obvious.
When a lot of resources are allocated to system 2, our system 1 becomes less effective.
“We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.”
System 1 usually makes suggestions to System 2, and System 2 is in low effort mode and agrees to the intuition or impression. This then becomes belief.
When System 1 cannot solve and issue, System 2 then becomes highly engaged.
System 2 keeps up polite when angry, and focused when driving at night. System 1 makes way more decisions but usually System 2 has the final say if it bothers.
System 1 usually works quite well, and it cannot be turned off. It is working all the time.
Sometimes System 1 and 2 have a conflict, such as saying the text “right” is on the left. We may still identify those correctly, but we need to slow down to properly do it.
The famous Muller-Lyer illusion shows 2 lines, one with fins pointing outwards and one with find pointing inwards. If we have seen it, our system 2 knows as a fact that the lines are equal length, but our system 1 will continue to let us see that one line is longer than the other. We cannot unsee the longer line, but we have learned to mistrust it.
Sometimes there are cognitive illusions (instead of just visual). If a patient tells a doctor that every doctor in the past has screwed them over, but you are different. Run away from this patient, even though system 1 wants to help him. The strong sympathetic attraction to the patient is like the lines with fin – it is an illusion and our system 2 should learn to distrust it.
Yu-kai’a note: the patient actually effectively used CD5: Social Influence, CD7: Curiosity on this disease, CD3 for the doctor to see if he can solve the problem that no one else can, CD 4: Identity in the sense of “I am that uniquely good doctor that cares about patience” and even CD1: Calling, “it’s my life mission to cure people, especially those who are mistreated by others”. No wonder even doctors cannot resist this!
We cannot turn system 1 off, but it is impractical to always be vigilant of these cognitive illusions. The best we can do it recognize situations that these errors are more prone to happen, especially when stakes are high.
The reason why we name systems 1 & 2 as characters is because it is more memorable to the Brain than abstract academic terms. Character and personalities are more memorable.
Yu-kai notes: this is adding CD5 to create more relatedness with the concept.
Author gives some ways to use his concepts in everyday conversation at the end of each chapter, such as, “This is your System 1 talking. Slow down and let your System 2 take control.”
Yu-kai notes: While it is a bit geeky and only helpful among people who have this studied, this is a good example of CD3: Empowerment. The author immediately allows users to see how they can strategically USE these concepts in everyday conversations, perhaps sounding smarter and grasping the concepts better as a result.
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Readalong for “Reality is Broken”: Chapter 1, What Exactly Is a Game?

tl;dr Embrace high stakes work and instead of telling yourself this isn’t a game, say this could be a game. 


McGonigal makes the point that gamers want to play games (and not “game” them) and uses the 4 traits of a game to establish some ground rules for the rest of her book.


Gaming is part of our lexicon. “Gaming the system” or “You’d better start playing the game” are part of everyday speech.

This statement leads McGonigal into a discussion of what a game is…a game has:

  1. goal players will work to achieve
  2. rules providing limitations
  3. feedback system giving player progress
  4. voluntary participation

“This definition may surprise you for what it lacks: interactivity, graphics, narrative, rewards, competition, virtual environments, or the idea of “winning” — all traits we often think of when it comes to games today. True, these are common features of many games, but they are not defining features.”

Continue reading Readalong for “Reality is Broken”: Chapter 1, What Exactly Is a Game?