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  • Reality Is Broken

  • Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World
  • By: Jane McGonigal
  • Narrated by: Julia Whelan
  • Length: 13 hrs and 23 mins
  • Unabridged
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars 796
  • Performance
    4.5 out of 5 stars 646
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars 636

In today’s society, games are fulfilling real human needs in ways that reality is not. Hundreds of millions of people globally - 174 million in the United States alone - regularly inhabit game worlds because they provide the rewards, stimulating challenges and epic victories that are so often lacking in the real world. Jane McGonigal argues that we need to figure out how to make the real world—our homes, our businesses and our communities—engage us in the way that games do.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Starry-eyed but inspiring

  • By Ryan on 03-07-12

Unsubstantiated musings from a tourist

1 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-30-14

What would have made Reality Is Broken better?

The biggest problem with this book is the author fails to provide any kind of meaningful evidence for the assertions she is making or just outright makes claims based off her personal subjective experience (“I saw this group of images on tumblr and the impression I got was …”) that have no business being in a book that is trying to communicate high level concepts. Occasionally a study is mentioned but the logic connecting the study and whatever point the author is trying to make feel shallow at best. I have no problem taking in an opposing view with proper evidence and letting it digest in my brain but I constantly found myself asking very obvious questions to the author’s points that were never answered or were passively dismissed. In the end I’ve seen reddit posts that have better citation.

There is also the tendency to confuse the benefits of sports games (or general dice/card games) with video games. These things are all different mediums and the benefits of one might translate to the others but the author takes the benefits for granted without trying to show why the benefits of team sports translates to video games; there is just an assumption that they do and she goes right the implications of those imagined benefits.

What was most disappointing about Jane McGonigal’s story?

One of the key issues is the author is what I call a “tourist”. This is someone who comes into a hobbyist field, looks around for a bit and then proceeds to make statements that can sound reasonable if you are on the outside but sound totally absurd if you take part in the hobby. I am not talking down on tourists, everyone likes to dabble here and there, but if you are going to write a book on a topic then you should have a better understanding of the subject matter. The author makes absurd statements like “Rock Band is one of the most popular tournament video games”. Being a tourist is one thing but totally missing EVO, The International, Dreamhack, MLG or the OGN/GSL stuff is just not paying attention (I don’t think LoL really started picking up steam until 2012, when this book was published, so I’ll give her a pass on missing that). An equally bizarre assertion was also made that raiding in WoW takes more skill than playing CS competitively (top kek). This would be like saying chess players are more athletic than sprinters because the brain of a chess player burns more calories over a chess game than a sprinter will burn during a 400 yard dash. There is an implicit 'all other things being equal' in almost all of the author's statements that makes no sense in the context of what she is trying to communicate. Then she proceeds to use, and try to explain, the word “pwn”. Have you ever heard someone in their 50s use a word that stopped being a relevant social meme 10 years ago? /cringe

Again, my problem with the book isn’t the fact that the author hasn’t been playing video games for 25 years like I have or isn’t as immersed in gaming culture as I am, my problem is that she is drawing conclusions about gaming and gamers without having a good understanding of either and is missing out on key experiences that core gamers share and some of these experiences invalidate the author's thesis. A big one is gamer regret or ‘post-game depression’. This is mentioned, once, and then immediately dismissed like it doesn't matter. Well it does matter when you are writing a book about how video game logic makes everything better. Every gamer knows gamer regret. It’s that huge empty feeling you get after beating a game or staring at your MMO character knowing that there is nothing left to do and realizing that it was all for nothing because in the end you didn’t actually gain anything from the experience. It is a crushing feeling. The cause of this is in how the brain’s reward center works and the difference between the feeling of something leading to fulfillment and actual fulfillment. There is a great book called The Willpower Instinct that gives a good summery this concept if you are interested, the tl;dr version is that dopamine focuses the brain on what has value in the environment (this process is called RAS) with the intention of having the body take action towards getting whatever is being focused on (there is an apple tree across the river, I don’t want to cross the river because I might die but the dopamine tells me that I’ll be fulfilled if I eat the apples so I take the risk to get the reward). Games are dopamine machines, constantly tempting the player with fulfillment without actually giving anything. When the illusion is shattered because the game is over or no further progression is possible, you crossed the river but you never got the tasty apple. The author ignores this concept in its entirety, most likely because doing so would shatter the thesis that video games represent a better way to live your life.

There is also a lot of ‘causation vs correlation’ confusion. The lack of critical thinking behind the ideas in this book is just annoying.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

The book does make some good points about goal setting but it is nothing that Napoleon Hill or Tony Robbins haven’t made many times before.

Any additional comments?

Ultimately games are fast paced and highly stimulating. Real life doesn’t work this way. Exciting ideas quickly turn stale in the face of months of slower paced work to see their execution. You can’t keep real life constantly stimulating you. Progress in life is slow and often boring, even for topics that are subjectively interesting. This is such an obvious fact to anyone that has taken the time to master anything but the author, being a tourist, totally ignores this reality to the point where some of her interesting ideas fall flat due to the shallowness of their surroundings. Learning any skill to mastery takes hours and days and years of tedious practice and the concept that this can be bypassed by the shifting of mentality is just the classic “get rich quick” scheme repackaged. Charlatans always sell it and suckers always buy-in.

12 of 15 people found this review helpful