Gamification Expert &

Behavioral Designer

Readalong for Reality is Broken: Introduction

This readalong is hosted by Erik van Mechelen, written in the context of the Octalysis framework. Each week in Octalysis Prime, members have the opportunity to meet and discuss this book and other great work in the gamification space. 

TL;DR Games and gameful design at scale can change the real world for the better.


“[Games] are clues to the future. And their serious cultivation now is perhaps our only salvation.”

-Bernard Suits, philosopher

“I see a hurricane coming…The exodus of these people from the real world, from our normal daily life, will create a change in social climate that makes global marking look like a tempest in a teacup.”

-Edward Castronova, Exodus to the Virtual World

(Note: Reality is Broken was published in 2011)

Gamers are spending more hours playing games than ever before.

“But as they devote more and more of their free time to game worlds, the real world increasingly feels like it’s missing something.”

Erik: the real world lacks predictable reward structures and instant gratification (patience and hard work are required)

“Games want to know: Where, in the real world, is that gamer sense of being fully alive, focused, and engaged in every moment? Where is the gamer feeling of power, heroic purpose, and community (CD1/CD5)? Where are the bursts of exhilarating creative game accomplishment (CD2/3)? Where is the heart-expanding thrill of success and team victory (CD2/5)?”

Reality wasn’t designed from the bottom up to make us happy.

Erik: Is happiness the goal? McGonigal doesn’t discuss why this is a given Good. Happiness is seemingly always fleeting, whereas satisfaction or contentment (even when bored), can be an acquired skill through mindfulness and observed attention.

Reality is broken. Castronova notices the “mass exodus” of gamers to game spaces. In the US alone there are 183 million active gamers, over half the population, including 5 million “extreme” gamers playing 45+ hours per week.

Erik: Pro gaming leagues are already a thing in 2017. This is likely to continue, building on Starcraft and League of Legends and various sports games, not to mention Fantasy sports leagues.

A problem: “We are creating a massive virtual silo of cognitive effort, emotional energy, and collective attention lavished on game worlds instead of on the real world.”

Yes, games are addictive and there is a rush for industry expansion, BUT

“The thruth is this: in today’s society, computer and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy.”

In Herodotus’s The Histories, there is a tale of Atys, kin gof Lydia (in Asia Minor) who decrees the playing of games every 2nd day to ward off an 18-year famine.

Gameplay is both escapist and a purposeful escape, or even an extremely helpful escape.

Today’s hunger “is not a hunger for food – it is a hunger for more and better engagement from the world around us.”

The planet spends more than 3 billion hours a week gaming (again, 2011, probably more now).

What if we decided to use everything we know about game design to fix what’s wrong with reality?

Erik: this is a CD1 call to action.

To develop this book, McGonigal helped build multiple mobile games and observed players and learned about their motivations and what they enjoyed about games, and also considered psychology, cognitive science, sociology, economics, political science, and performance theory (she wrote a 500-page dissertation “proposing how we could leverage the power of games to reinvent everything from government, health care, and education to traditional media, marketing, and entrepreneurship — even world peace”).

2008 Game Developer’s Conference Rant: McGonigal declared Reality is Broken, and we need to fix it.

2009 GDC, she gave the keynote, and many game designers led other talks like ‘games for personal and social change,’ ‘positive impact games,’ ‘social reality games,’ ‘serious games,’ ‘leveraging the play of the planet.’

Games can also “stoke our appetite for engagement, pushing and enabling us to make stronger connections–and bigger contributions–to the world around us.”

Rob Fahey in 2008: “It’s inevitable: soon we will all be gamers.”

Antoine de Sain Exupéry: “As for the future, your task is not to see it, but to enable it.”

Games, in the 21st century, will be a primary platform for enabling the future.

McGonigal calls for a better and more immersive reality.

Erik: McGonigal hasn’t yet mentioned Augmented Reality (but again, this is 2011)

“If we take everything game developers have learned about optimizing human experience and organizing collaborative communities and apply it to real life, I foresee games that make us wake up in the morning and feel thrilled to start our day. I foresee games that reduce our stress at work and dramatically increase our career satisfaction. I foresee games that fix our educational systems. I foresee games that treat depression, obesity, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder. I foresee games that help the elderly feel engaged and socially connected. I foresee games that raise rates of democratic participation. I foresee games that tackle global-scale problmes like climate change and poverty. In short, I foresee games that augment our most essential human capabilities–to be happy, resilient, creative–and empower us to change the world in meaningful ways. Indeed, as you’ll see in the pages ahead, such games are already coming into existence.”

We can play any games we want. We can create any future we can imagine.

Let the games begin.

Read Chapter 1 Next

Come back and readalong in Chapter 1

Or join Octalysis Prime to discuss with members from all over the world! ?

Share the Post:

other Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *