Readalong: Reality is Broken, Ch 6 – Becoming a Part of Something Bigger Than Ourselves

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 The key to happiness is reducing a focus on oneself and investing effort and attention into something larger than oneself, something of epic proportions, something that gives you awe.


McGonigal’s narrative of Halo’s rise and incorporation of epic meaning from its player base and community-driven goals of 10 billion kills against the Covenant (a fictional enemy to Earth) provides the backdrop for her suggestion that the key to happiness is an investment in something with epic meaning, something that gives one awe in its pursuit.


Most of McGonigal’s narrative and explanation is convincing in this chapter. I like her tale of Halo 3’s community-driven pursuit and the seemingly endless stream of games and movies which now stake the survival of planet Earth at the center of their stories. There is something in epic scale and proportions that attracts our attention.

Halo 3’s community used narrative with collective context for shared experience by players and then placed this context in a service lens: anything a player does in service of that context which will benefit the group and the larger collective. An online museum was even built to commemorate achievements.

Later, McGonigal builds the motivational and psychological viewpoint further.

As Martin Seligman puts it: “The self is a very poor site for meaning.”

Furthermore, archeological findings like the Gobekli Tepe (predating Stone Henge by 6,000 years) demonstrate our ancestors’ desire for epic environments. These Neolithic (New Stone Age) giant stone circles may have been a spiritual construction which brought people together, and may have been a place where early villages and cities grew up around.

If you haven’t read Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’, I highly recommend it.

Finally, McGonigal urges us to notice that there is something about reducing the self and thrusting efforts towards higher meaning that brings us happiness, and that we should look to not only do this in games, but in the real world.

What do you think?

What epic environments or stories or missions have pulled you into their keeping?

What do you think? Is the key to happiness pulling away from oneself and into a larger meaning?

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

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