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Glowbear avatar 6:05 AM on 09.10.2012  (server time)
Is Reality Broken?

Note: This isn't a review of the entire book but just regarding the central theme that the author wants to express and that the subtitle hints at before you even open the book.

Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal sets out to not only enlighten the uninitiated but almost feels like a lengthy journey in some strange form of techno-conversion. The author uses sympathetic empathic paragraphs to highlight emotions we feel quite a lot and some of us, if not most of us on a daily basis, on extreme levels. The basic point of the entire book is to get to the route of why we are all depressed and feel unfulfilled and the author is adamant that what we need to save us from such a grey, rudimentary mundane lifestyle are games.

The author demonstrates that games in various formats have been the true reason why certain civilisations prevailed and survived. She uses that as a slight backdrop basis to start her book off and give the notion of games being integral a sort of primeval relevance. Because she probably realises that many people will ask the question "if games are what really makes us happy and keep on going then how did our ancestors, who had no technology get by". So by harking back to ancient Greek times, she makes references to games in the sense of ball games ect but then spends the remainder of her well research and quoted book focusing on computer games. In an early chapter she makes a promise to explain as we carry on, that games (computer games) are not only vital for our psychological well being but that they will play pivotal roles in the curing of cancer. Now such a statement is bold and fascinating in general and somewhat disturbing means.

This book is about deep and heavy hitting issues that go beyond the general misconception that gamers have had to put up with since the 80's. The author wants people who snubbed gamers to realise that the gamers are actually one step ahead and she wants those who have no involvement in gaming, be it taking part or reflecting an opinion about it, to realise that they are missing out and the answer to a lot of their problems could well be, picking up a game. Now I try to spot lines that show me that the author isn't actually suggesting that we should just play games for the remainder of our lives, she does indeed state that their is such a thing as an overload of short term happiness and that we shouldn't want to play games all the time, because it will leave us with the fear of having wasted our time. But she then goes to talk about the notion of prolonged happiness replacing the short bursts, which in a way contradicts the hopeful paragraphs I try to cling to.

I thought this was going to be an insightful book talking about the social aspects of gaming, the evolution of the genre and pastime and I got that, but I also got something that for some reason disturbed me. The author is a qualified intelligent person, with many qualifications and recites a lot of data from personal lab based research and the research and findings of others, as well as general community data collection. Yet from the way she writes I can't help but feel that she's falling under a spell, a somewhat dangerous one. While data and examples can be shown and traced, it is still very difficult to think of my life requiring games in order to feel satisfied.

According to her findings, satisfaction comes from challenges in life that are rewarded, where we feel useful and successful and that doesn't seem to really require any human interaction at all. We do not care even if others see our progress, we get enough endorphins from the personal accomplishment. But again she mentions that this 'fiero' isn't a perfected art and we can overdose on it and then have a downer so to speak. What she proposes then is that we find the perfect game or games, that we somehow create a virtual world whereby we can enhance this mental wave of 'happiness'. It all feels very matrixy to me. While McGonigal never says we should hook up to a computer (in fact she mentions games like World of Warcraft actual reward players for taking a break with double bonus points), she still is proposing that a fusion between man and game would almost create an advancement in us as a species.

I read her findings, I look up more information about them and I have written very light in comparison articles regarding the fact that games are much more than plug in and play, but this seems over the top. She claims that it is a pity that the real world is not like the gaming world, for the gaming world gives us pleasure the real world does not. The subtitle of the book alone, Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World gives you an idea of what's ahead and yet the changes she proposes aren't what you would think you'd find upon reading. She speaks across the board too, doesn't exclude a man or woman who's happily married, has children they adore and makes an income that affords them a little luxury. No from the way the lines read of the page, that person still gets no real challenge or mental twang of lively achievement, but playing a game, be it an immersive RPG or Tetris can fill that void.

Sidenote: Hearing the creator of Tetris, Alexey Pajitnov talk is one of the most soothing things ever

The fusion of man and machine or virtual reality is something I don't advocate nor believe can really happen. There is only one real way life can be created and it does not involve a Gameboy.

Unless Gameboys cause some sort of erotic explosion inside you and you whisk your partner away for a baby making sessions.

I don't think that we're really heading that way, but there are fractions that are on a very similar path. Watching documentaries like Second Skin alone shows us that there are people in the world that would happily let their mind, body and souls be consumed into a gaming world and remain there for eternity. My general point isn't to deny the benefits of gaming outside of simply playing a game; previous blogs have described my ideas about the existential pros and cons. But Reality is Broken is on a whole different level, there's an agenda there, not one that is sinister at all, and yet it is difficult to turn the page, because of the fear of what outlandish statement will be made next. One could be forgiven for thinking that McGonigal's think-tank experiments and books like this are actually a way to increase the consumer market for computer games. Make people believe they're missing out, so they pick up a game and maybe a subscription or possibly take advantage and scare people who are going through tough times into thinking that like a pet, a game won't hurt them, a pet will ask nothing of them but time and reward them with virtual pats on the back.

Regardless of whether or not the author is actually trying to convey the messages I'm picking up on, it's still an interesting read and I would suggest if you have the time and interest in a book that speaks primarily about psychological and social influences and aspect of games from different opinions and various researches, then give this a go or give something similar, maybe not quite as heavy.

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