Gamification Expert &

Behavioral Designer

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.


From a n Octalysis perspective, we can examin blissful productivity as follows. In the case of WoW, which includes an avatar, jobs, the desire for more exeperience, abilities, armor, skills, and talant/reputation, we see clear inclusion of CD4 and CD5 motivators.

McGonigal describes this as a ‘virtuous circle’ of productivity, and cites Edward Castronova: ‘there is zero unemployment in World of Warcraft.’

True, there is always something to do in WoW, but so is there in life, if you view it a certain way. Part of what ails many people in, life (Erik), is there inability to view it as an exploration of this incredible landscape of experiences and curiosity and relationships.

McGonigal’s next point about high-stakes work is key, too. The game designers have made the raids with friends (CD5) feel like high-stakes quests (‘drops for this boss are rare, etc.’), but the same approach can be taken in life. (‘You only live once’ is a good start.)

There is something to be said about these MMOs though, such that games like Age of Conan were ridiculed by serious gamers for its ‘paltry’ 250 hours of gameplay to reach the high est level . Only 250. Here we see the necessity of designing for endgame players, too, since a comment from a serious or expert gamer before the launch of a product can influence others not to purchase it at all.

Jane’s Fix #3: More Satisfying Work says:

Compared with games, reality is unproductive. Games give us clearer missions and more satisfying, a hands-on work.

Again, I differ a little with McGonigal here. I think people are quite clever and maybe to the point of delusional about creating productive work for themselves. Some people actually do become addicted to stimulation and work and moving things forward in their businesses.

Part of the beauty of WoW, perhaps, is its ‘guarantee of productivity’, clear action to follow the clear goal, whereas life doesn’t always offer that.

To my view, the exploration of possibilities (CD7) inherent in most of life’s biggest questions down through career and into ‘what should Ieat for lunch today?’ involve exciting choices. This meaningful choice (CD3), is important to me and energizing.

This could be a personality thing, a desire to have some freedom, but it also might explain why I like games like Portal (which Mcgonigal mentions) and Myst, with slightly more ambiguous goals and very unclear actions steps. Minecraft’s open world comes to mind, too.

This varies considerably from the WoW player who said: “When accepting a quest, you rarely have to question if you can complete it; you just need to figure out when you can fit it into your jam-packed hero schedule” This endless series of goals and actionable steps, McGonigal claims, is what makes World of Warcraft so invigorating…I think, for me, this style of game becomes boring quite quickly, but I may not be in the norm here.

By invoking Alain de Botton’s The Pleasure of Sorrow an Work, McGonigal emphasizes that work is “meaningful only when it proceeds briskly in the hands of a restricted umber of actors and therefore where particular workers can make and imagine a connection between what they have done with their working days and their impact upon others.” (Botton’s quotation)

Matthew Crawford echoes this, but from a hands-on lens: “Many of us do work that feels more surreal than real. ” Rather, ‘real agency’ can be seen in places like shop class, where the results of your labor are plain to see.

Jane’s next argument, that casual games, in short doses, can give workers a boost of productive feeling, echoes these thinkers. As Alain de Botton puts it: “In casual games, there is no greater purpose to our actions–we are simply enjoying our ability to make something happen.

Perhaps it is this reminder that can then translate back into the real world 🙂

What do you think?

How does blissful productivity apply to your work and days? Do you play casual games to remind yourself that productivity is possible?

What do you think?

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

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