Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 10 – Happiness Hacking

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 Use games in physical places to form habits. 


This chapter is about how alternate realities can help us adopt the daily habits of the world’s happiest people. McGonigal provides explanations of 3 games she helped design.

She also relays the trouble of thinking about positive psychology as ‘self-help’, and poses strategies to overcoming this cynical psychological barrier and actually implementing gameful design in our lives.


In describing Cruel 2 Be Kind (a game about using random acts of kindness to eliminate opponents and inspire ‘victims’ in crowds), and Tombstone Hold’em (a real-life spatial poker game played in cemeteries requiring creative movement, and Top Secret Dance Off (a formal creative dance competition on a YouTube-esque online site), McGonigal stresses the concept of sneaking up on happiness. She draws this from John Stuart Mill’s observation that when approaching happiness directly, it is often elusive.

In succession, the games mentioned above provide a “dopamine hit” (when others smile first), a grateful physiological state known as “posttraumatic bliss” in appreciating the present moment, and euphoria through dance and movement.

Creating habits is easy, but breaking habits isn’t. The trick, then, to creating new habits, is in part about reducing the number of bad habits so as to create space for new ones.

Ultimately, these games are ways to actually practice good advice (being kind to others, reflecting on death/mortality, and moving to music.

More interestingly, none of these require an app.

What do you think?

What games have you played in real life without technology?

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

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