Jane McGonigal: Gamers can change the future

June 10, 2015

Read time 3 min

Jane McGonigal wants to see a game developer get nominated for the Nobel Prize. I daresay most of the audience first went “yeah, sure.” That was before hearing what she actually had to say.

“Let’s do someting unusual. Let’s go ahead and take games seriously for a change. Look at them as a way to see and change the future.”

The game designer and author starts off by informing us that there are one billion gamers out there that play at least an hour a day. That’s over 7 billion hours of video game playing a week.

The crazy thing is, a stunning eight out of ten employees are not engaged in their work. That’s eight out of ten people with a job. Unengaged employees are not only expensive – they cost a whopping 3.1 trillion dollars a year. And unengagemnent isn’t just a problem of the working world. In fact, most people in general don’t feel like they’re in charge of the success in life.

janeThe gaming community, on the other hand, reflects engagement at the maximum level. Gamers are trying, failing, winning and connecting with a huge community of like-minded enthusiasts, pouring those billions of hours into Candy Crush or World of Warcraft on a weekly basis.

Get this: one in four players call in sick whenever a new Call of Duty game is published.

“This is an opportunity. Think Wikipedia: they’ve estimated that about 100 million hours of human effort have been used on building the whole encyclopedia. Using nothing but a fraction of the gamers’ enthusiasm and collective intelligence could create hundreds of wikipedias.”

The engagement is all about the ten positive emotions that gamers are looking for: joy, relief, love, surprise, curiosity, excitement, awe and wonder, contentment and, most importantly, creativity.

According to McGonigal, creativity is usually considered a skill. She argues that creativity can also be seen as an emotion: it is a feeling of empowerement, being able to take risks.

Positive emotions make gamers resilient in three different ways. Playing games gets them more optimistic, physiologically energized and ambitious as well as more encouraged by other people. Here’s the catch:

“These three causes of resilience are important when you’re building the future. The thing is, the opposite of work isn’t play – it is depression. This is true even on a neurological level. Games just turn us into super-empowered, hopeful individuals.”

lauchgawayInstead of deciding that there are people who spend wa-hay too much time playing video games, how about we start harnesssing the collective intelligence they generate?

“The best simulations of the future are not high-powered programs that tell us what to do. No, they’re based on personal predictions. If you want to forecast the future, you shouldn’t necessarily ask experts – ask what the ordinary people, the people playing the game, would do.”

So, odds are Albert Einstein was right: maybe games really are the most elevated form of investigation. Rumor has it he once was worried about being addicted to playing chess.

There we go.

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