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Publisher's Summary

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. Instead of futile handwringing about this exodus from reality, world-renowned game designer 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.

Drawing on positive psychology and cognitive science, McGonigal reveals how game designers have hit on core truths about what makes us happy, from social connection to having satisfying work to do. Game designers intuitively understand how to optimize human experience. Reality is Broken shows that games can teach us essential lessons about mass collaboration, creating emotional incentives, and increasing engagement that will be relevant to everyone.

©2011 Jane McGonigal (P)2011 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Ryan
  • Somerville, MA, United States
  • 03-07-12

Starry-eyed but inspiring

Being a developer of games and simulation/training software, myself, I think that this book delves into an important question: why do we play games? After all, when one thinks about it, most games are simply work, a series of repetitive tasks. What makes them *fun*? And why doesn’t work we do in real life engage us in the same way? Why do people enjoy doing chores in The Sims and Farmville, but hate doing their actual dishes and laundry? Why are X-Box first person shooter matches so popular with soldiers in Afghanistan, who presumably get enough of the real deal?

If you can mentally compensate for the author’s extremely starry-eyed view of gaming and gamers, she does raise some interesting points. There’s no question that games tap into our neurochemical wiring, stimulating our brains' reward systems with bite-sized challenges and constant feedback. We enjoy the competition and freedom of experimentation that games offer. Playing them also has more meaningful benefits, such as building self-confidence, providing healthy escape from stress, allowing us to explore and experiment, fostering community and connection, even creating a feeling of connection to something bigger.

This leads to the book's central questions: how can we apply what works in games to make aspects of the real world more engaging? How can we use game-like systems to solve problems that really matter? Would we have more fun with reality if it was more benignly competitive, more open to experimentation, more full of positive feedback for doing the right thing? If you weren't familiar with buzzy terms like "augmented reality" or "massively single-player", you will be.

While McGonigal probably won’t sell you on the notion that games can solve humanity’s problems, her anecdotes about successful projects make a convincing case for their future potential. Yes, many of the cutesy social apps she described, such as the one that rewards users with virtual prizes for jogging, seem a little inconsequential, but the point is the *possibility* they imply. If we're using smart phones to manage our lives anyway, why not make the experience fun? I was fascinated by the use of crowd-sourcing to unravel a British political scandal (with astonishingly effective results) and McGonigal's assessment of wikipedia in gaming terms. The World Without Oil game and some similar experiments show a potential role for gamelike collaborative systems in addressing widespread political disconnect.

The author also provides a sense of the sheer energy, enthusiasm, and range of interests of gamers themselves. Let’s face it, if hundreds of millions of people across the Earth are using computers and playing games every day, this represents a huge mindshare that might be tapped. Sure, not all of their skills translate to real-world problems, but many do. As I’ve seen in my own line of work, part of the reason that game-based military simulations are so effective is because they leverage an already-existing base of skills found among most young people who join the US military (and I don’t mean shooting stuff, but navigating virtual environments).

McGonigal’s unbridled excitement may not speak to every reader, but I think that most who have had a more-than-casual experience with gaming will understand where it's coming from. Even if you decide not to read the book, I recommend googling some of the author’s talks and projects.

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Dan
  • Indiana, PA, United States
  • 02-01-11

Slow start But full of Fascinating Ideas

The introduction is overwrought, too long and rather dry. Past that the book gets rather amazing. I was seconds from deciding this book wasn't worth my time but the intro finally ended. It is an excellent explanation of what gamers get out of games and why- useful for parents and friends. It serves as a good introduction to the whole phenomenon of gamers and gaming for the curious and it will warm the hearts of gamers far and wide. Much more than that though it places context to gaming within social science and broader social issues. It reminds me of the recent books by Dan Ariely in it's reliance on research and on the recent work on Marriage ("For Better") in tone and structure and biochemical explanations. The reader is good though we disagree on how a few words are pronounced.The author get's a bit self-congratulatory at times but it's not over done. I very nearly Love this book. I would recommend it to anyone who has even a slight interest in putting Gaming into context.

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

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Reality Is Not Broken

I could barely get through this book. Yes, once in a while there is a thought worth considering but for the most part, I don't buy the general premise.

A little investigation shows that many of the examples cites in the book have faded away. Maybe 'fadded' as in 'fad', is the better term.

Before these gamification programs can have lasting effect, they need to require less time and maintenance. And, the rewards need to be worth the effort. No one, and there are many books on this subject, explains practical ways of gamifying progress.

Sure, I agree with the concepts in principal but see no practical ways of putting most of them into practice.

You might enjoy this book. Don't let me discourage you. I personally didn't find much there. Instead, look at The Game Changer by Jason Fox. Much more interesting.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Perfectly captures the depth of engagement games

Having been around computers and games since I was 2, and having played online games from the start when I was 13, I can say that Jane McGonigal's description of the online world today's kids are growing up with is extremely accurate. When I sat down to write what soft skills I've picked up from all my years playing online games, I came up with a rather exhaustive list. It's astounding, regardless of the genre played (FPS, like Halo, MMOs like World of Warcraft).

Why do we find games so engaging, so engrossing? Many schools, businesses and the like are blaming 'addiction' to games for people tuning out. It goes far, far beyond simple 'addiction' (though problems do exist). Jane goes to great lengths to EXPLAIN the concepts of engagement this 'video game addiction' really consists of - and that schools, businesses and the greater community can and SHOULD learn from such an efficient, accessible use of these concepts to improve the quality of life for everyone in society.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • codingjoe
  • Highland Park, NJ, United States
  • 03-18-11

Great listen for the modern would be game designer

This book does a great job of taking a look at game design- from traditional games to MMORPG's to alternative reality games- for the interested computer scientist. I think anyone who regularly teaches would also appreciate this book. Fantastic job, it's already inspired me with various ideas on math games for kids. The only thing I would like for books like this are some cliff notes to help me remember what I've listened to.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Unsubstantiated musings from a tourist

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.

11 of 14 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Pam
  • United States
  • 05-03-12

Instructive and motivational

Would you try another book from Jane McGonigal and/or Julia Whelan?

Yes

Were the concepts of this book easy to follow, or were they too technical?

The concepts were easy to follow; I would say that McGonigal's sentence structure is a little complex, and suited to someone of an academic background.

Any additional comments?

This book is incredibly well researched, and ties together complex themes in psychology, sociology, and computer science. Part 1, the background of McGonigal's thesis, was fascinating, and Part 2, which related more of her own personal story, was also interesting. But the list of games and web sites in Part 3 seemed unnecessarily long. That's why I marked down the rating. For such a strong start, the book didn't finish in a very interesting way.

That said, I did find myself bookmarking important concepts and jotting down names of web sites and games to check out later. McGonigal motivated me to explore games to improve my health and the planet.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Gamers Interact

Just got the audio book, but in one word I would have to call it interesting. Being a gamer I related to a lot of segments Jane McGonigal wrote about. I first found out about the book, by watching her interview on G4 TV's show "Attack Of The Show". I myself had to get in front of an audience once, to talk about the positive interaction that games have for people. I hope this small review helps your decision making on buying this audio book. By the way Jane, good job with everything.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

This woman will change the world

Incredibly insightful book about the games culture and why it's so engrossing. Don't be scared off by the length of the book. Totally worth the time.

She outlines specifically what games give us and how we can use that in reality.

I like how in the second half of the book, Ms. McGonigal focuses on how games can be used to improve our lives and to address some of the larger problems affecting our world. Her research will make a huge difference in our world if we take it and run with her ideas.

Great job, and as a bonus, it's fun to listen to!

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Needs an Abridged Version

Reality Is Broken is excellent, but the amount of detail provided is excessive for making and demonstrating the author's points. For most readers it would be a better book if it were abridged. In particular the second half of the book seems to be a discussion of every game project the author had ever been involved with.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful