McGonigal: Play Videogames, Save The World

By Jim Rossignol on March 17th, 2010 at 2:39 pm.


Jane McGonigal thinks that gaming can save the world. We currently spend three billion hours a week playing online games. McGonigal says we need to raise that total to twenty-one billion hours a week by the next decade, if we want to address the world’s problems. Counter-intuitive, yes. I thought there were only 168 hours in a week… Watch her talk below.

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85 Comments »

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  1. mandrill says:

    TED is awesome. Everyone should subscribe. Just thought I’d point that out.

    Good talk too. I can now show the wife this video and tell her I’m saving the world. XD

    • mandrill says:

      I’d just like to add, that she’s not unattractive either.

    • woohah says:

      I’d just like to add, that whether or not she’s attractive has nothing to do with what she is saying. Not sure why you decided to throw that in there

    • Rich says:

      Judge not a book by its cover.

      Yet if it’s a nice looking cover, just look and don’t read.
      Then there won’t be any disappointment.

    • Jeremy says:

      Beauty adds credibility. Whether you admit it or not.

    • Jakkar says:

      I think he’s more than welcome to register his approval – she might find it flattering, if she knew. Don’t make a big deal out of it, chaps and chappettes.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      Loved this talk, so I went back and watched the Boing Boing interviews from GDC last year. Only, i kept getting distracted by how much she looks like a blonde Deanna Troi. Added her book to my wish list though.

  2. Richard Beer says:

    I knew I wasn’t just saving a pretend world! I must make my girlfriend watch this. I’m sure it’ll change her opinion of my hours in L4D2/MW2/BFBC2/etc completely.

    • Richard Beer says:

      Wow. I guess I play a lot of sequels.

    • RC-1290Dreadnought says:

      “Go shopping? Not now honey, I’m saving the world”

    • Stromko says:

      Actually all those games are pretty hopelessly linear. L4D is probably a good trust-building exercise and high-level play in other online shooters might be good for getting socially organized, but I don’t think they’re exactly what she had in mind.

      I come away from this with the sense that WoW, etc is seen as a skill and character-building exercise, in and of themselves such games still have no world-changing value. Essentially they are urging players to build core skills necessary to be a critical thinker and active participant.

      Once those core skills are developed, there isn’t a lot of benefit. This is more about getting non-gamers to come fill in those 18 billion more hours per week so they stop being hopeless, uncaring sleep-walkers.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      I don’t think linearity is the issue. Valve are the absolute masters of teaching you new skills through games in such a way that you don’t even realise you’re learning them. They’ve talked extensively about it in their commentaries and in interviews. Harnessing that power seems to me to be exactly the kind of thing she’s talking about. Especially if you couple it with co-oporation.

  3. The Diddler says:

    Maan, she talks…… A LOT !

  4. dhex says:

    ted talks tend to suffer from malcolm gladwell disease, i.e. taking disparate, complicated phenomena and distilling it into overly simple narratives that have plenty of “gee whiz”. the above adds more than a dash of tony robbins to the mix.

  5. Ewok says:

    Whos not unattractive? Jane McGonigal or your wife?

  6. The Hammer says:

    Oh wow, I loved that, and most of it struck me as very true. What a positive 20 minutes that was!

  7. Mort says:

    classic TED. Throw in some eyebrow raising stats and a far out idea, but It gets distinctly ‘meh’ towards the end, I was waiting for the ‘epic win’ conclusion.
    Good to see someone loving their craft though.

  8. Web Cole says:

    That was pretty good, not as good as some TED talks, but pretty good nonetheless :)

  9. Krouv says:

    Slightly wow-centric, isn’t it? And she doesn’t mention the fact that a large part of those gaming hours are singleplayer, which rather trumps her claim that games develop social bonds.

  10. Tom OBedlam says:

    Its an interesting idea, not sure I buy it but at least I came out the other side a bit uplifted. It would be nice if she could give Jessie Schell a hug and tell him everything’s going to be ok.

  11. 532sa says:

    First strike: shes a woman, therefore knows nothing about the vidya.

    Second strike: She claimed people save the world in ONLINE games. She is refering to MMOs, and MMOs are NOT video games, but designed time sinks.

    Third and final strike: Portrait of a gamer, obvious done by a webcam on a laptop, and the dropping the phrase “epic win”. No one who goes on stage and says that is worth listening to, regardless of the material.

    Stopped watching after that.

    • woohah says:

      First strike: Internet misogynist male basing all criticisms on the fact that she is a woman

    • Alex Bakke says:

      I agree. In my opinion at least, epic win was cool around 2007/early 2008.

    • Premium User Badge

      Sagan says:

      @woohah:

      Don’t feed the troll.

  12. Riesenmaulhai says:

    None of this made any sense.
    Is she serious? She is not, is she? She’s just advertising her own work.

  13. Anthony says:

    “Next, on “McGonigle”, McGonigle is framed for a crime he didn’t commit. And only one person can clear his name: a little sissy boy who’s too scared to come forward.”

    Sorry, her surname made me think of the Simpsons. Sue me.

  14. l1ddl3monkey says:

    Found the 80’s hair a bit distracting but otherwise a very interesting talk

  15. Muzman says:

    She gets a good reception most of the time, and that talk sounds ok. I was warmed by everyone ability to save the world, it’s true. But her arguments both here and in previous longer talks about creating reward systems for everything are pretty much the nice cheerful version of what this guy was saying a couple of weeks ago.
    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/02/24/this-hunger-for-reality/

    Despite the tsunami of Kurzweil-esque positivity she always gives (which makes me immediately suspicious by itself, but anyway) the -Brave New World- alarm starts going off. That she doesn’t normally attract that sort of response gets me thinking she’s the robot from Metropolis.

  16. Crake says:

    I signed up for Superstruct and played for a couple of days. It was weird and obnoxious and vaguely menacing. Obviously tailored to a keynesian worldview which, in the opinion of the opposing camp definitely won’t lead to prosperity.

    Either they’d need competing superstructs, representing competing worldviews, or they’d need to allow people to edit the deeper structure of the game they’re playing, once flaws are identified (once it obviously diverges from the real world).

  17. schuubars says:

    She has somewhat a point considering that deep in the basics a game is mainly about solving problems…

    • Riesenmaulhai says:

      …which nonetheless doesn’t make gamers better politicians.

    • Megan says:

      She never mentioned politics.

      Broadly speaking, she’s talking about gamers having better honed problem-solving skills. She’s considering the population of gamers to be one giant think-tank. So she’s experimenting to see what can be done with that.

      The other thing to consider is that in another 30 or 40 years, in the Western world, you’ll have a lot fewer people who have never in their lives played video games.

    • jsdn says:

      Or… maybe humans are naturally skilled problem solvers, and we have a hunger for problems that are actually designed to be solvable. All the readily solvable real world problems have already been solved, and the rest have people in their respective fields of research. The Nobel Prize is essentially a sceintist’s “epic win.” Where does the average gamer fit into whatever vague ideal she was suggesting?

  18. TeeJay says:

    I only got 5 minutes in and she had said absolutely f*ck-all.

    Can anyone sum up her “big idea” for me?

  19. TeeJay says:

    …or to put it another way:

    What “collective intelligence” has World of Warcarft (or any other vast gaming time-sink) generated and how has this been utilized to improve the world or solve any kind of social ill?

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      Uh, there hasn’t been any. Besides a few idiotic jokes and memes like Leeroy Jenkins and “(Blank) is serious business” the only thing accomplished in Warcraft is about 13,000,000 multiplied by $14 a month.

      Because achievement systems mean you no longer care why you’re doing something, only that you did it, it’s practically the worst idea ever to implement this wide scale. No one has any interest in learning anything anymore because there’s no points at the end. And if there were, they wouldn’t care about learning it other than for the points.

    • Stromko says:

      What it has achieved is getting a lot of non-gamers to think more like gamers, and that is what the world needs. A lot of people who’ve never played video games are devoted to a world where they are useless bystanders, being a hero in a fantasy world may just open them up to other possibilities.

    • Vague-rant says:

      I believe there was a study that used WoW to check the epidemiology of contagious diseases a few years back. Its interesting that they could use such a world for medical purposes given that people commuting/journeying around a game world presumably move in very different patterns than they would in real life. However as a way to analyse the movements of mass groups of people easily its probably the best way.

  20. Colthor says:

    “What about games makes it impossible to feel that we can’t achieve everything?”
    The fact that games are designed to be solvable problems. The problems in real life aren’t – they’re thrown up by a universe that doesn’t (can’t) care if you solve them, or even if it’s possible for you to do so.

    And no frustration in games? Really?

    “This is true, I believe this.”
    Belief does not imply truth. She seems to have a slightly strange concept of evolution, too.

    • The Great Wayne says:

      I think you misunderstood the lady. She doesn’t imply that because she believes it, it’s true, her sentence means “yeah, it’s not a joke, I really believe that”.

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      tomeoftom says:

      Misunderstanding aside, Colthor’s point that the universe is not designed with a player in mind, (nor designed at all), sweeps away her already quite insubstantial central argument – that games can essentially inspire people to act in real-world situations where apathy/laziness would otherwise triumph.

    • Premium User Badge

      tomeoftom says:

      Whoops, forgot to add:

      Because, obviously, that inspiration and/or feeling of empowerment only comes about due to the fact that games are carefully designed.

  21. Biz says:

    “world of warcraft is the ideal problem solving environment”

    lmfao

  22. Igor Hardy says:

    So, yeah, by escaping from difficult real life challenges to focus on easy, safe, virtual ones people actually master the skills needed for solving the problems they escaped from…

    Now, isn’t this lady absolutely correct when she says she’s not being rational unlike that economist she quotes?

    • sfury says:

      And we all know ALL ECONOMISTS ARE SUPER RATIONAL, especially during the last few years…

      Nah, I can see where she is going, games can be a powerful and immersing medium and sure can be used as education, but don’t people immerse themselves in fantasy worlds like WOW exactly to escape real-life’s troubles? A number of willing people enlisted in those experimental games they set up – good, I’d also enlist for that, but I really don’t see a billion people substituting their leisure time fantasy-or-whatever gaming to a more educational and realistic game, no matter how enticing they make it look.

  23. Junior says:

    Fascinating ideas, it’d be amazing if it turned out the singularity was powered by human minds worthing together through games.

    I just hope the games are still fun.

  24. Bowlby says:

    Christ, does she ever get to the point? Or, does anyone have a synopsis?

    • Premium User Badge

      tomeoftom says:

      She really doesn’t, which is quite annoying when you realise you’ve spent twenty minutes watching her talk.

  25. Devan says:

    I’m surprised she got a PHD for this. The edutainment/social experiment games are all fine and well, but most of that talk seemed to be broad generalizations and assertions with sketchy reasoning, in order to hype and this “big idea” to a non-gaming audience. It’s like she’s put much more effort into making a splash than in proving out her ideas.
    I also get the feeling that the results of those problem-solving games are not likely to be put to any significant use. I’d love to be shown wrong though.

    Anyway, it’s not an effective justification for time spent playing games and I don’t think games need one. The whole spin of aiming to increase global game time to save the world is a load of nonsense, IMHO.

  26. Lars BR says:

    What’s that bit about liking/trusting people who beat us in games?

    She’s obviously never played any shooters.

    Or backgammon.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      I have a great time playing shooters, even if I’m losing.

      Unless someone is aimbotting and killing me with a single shot every time. That’s not so cool.

      Kids these days! Need to learn winning isn’t everything. Just means you don’t need another quarter to keep playing Sinistar.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      Actually addendum, because Warcraft was her focus, yes.

      I completely agree with you. But use Warcraft as the focus of that, not a shooter. I don’t think there’s a game that turns people into such masochists.

  27. John says:

    Interesting, and true. But really, this will only satisfy people’s desire to have a completely didactic medium. And it in no way addresses the “not care about real world” problem she presented.

    And i can already foresee the amount of people who’ll cry and scream so all games can save the world, denying the right of existence to games who simply desire to engage the players in extravagant experiments and experiences.

    Honestly, having real world objective somehow does nothing for me. I’d prefer for my accomplishments to stay virtual, rather than real. Years and years of being pushed into virtual existences by an unnecessarily aggressive, dysfunctional, real world that seems to deny me off all my interests and own understanding of success, makes me unable to care less about it.

  28. T4ffer says:

    She tweeted this about the Jesse Schell talk:

    “A VERY important talk from Jesse Schell at DICE – a forecast on the future of how we will all game our real lives [url]”

    http://twitter.com/avantgame/status/9395731315

    Though later clarified her opinion a bit:

    “I don’t agree with everything Schell says (& not all his examples are awesome) but to have this talk so well-received at DICE is significant”

    Don’t know what to make of that combined with this TED talk.

  29. Stromko says:

    She isn’t saying that World of Warcraft is useful in and of itself, but that the traits it engenders in its players are good for the world. Never mind a lot of them are selfish pricks that ignore their kids to play a game, if it wasn’t that it would be booze or lotto or TV, at least they’re being active participants in one of their two lives.

  30. jokermatt999 says:

    I don’t buy it. She assumes that work and story in a mmo can be translated into saving the world. There’s also an assumption that gamers all or even largely fit her word “gamer”. Sure, some of the people playing WoW fit that, but I don’t think that most of them do. Not all gamers are optimists, not all are cooperative, not all are going to put a huge effort into solving really world problems. I don’t think most would, actually. It’s nice for us to feel all warm and fuzzy and like we’re going to save the world through videogames, but I really don’t think there are any real solutions here. The reasons these problems are unsolved is because they’re difficult. Creating a game system to “solve” it assumes that the problem is understood or simple enough to create a game about. I admit I have not checked into superstruct yet, but something tells me there may be more to these issues than a game system can realistically be formed around.

    I do think that games/point systems can be used as a motivator for encouraging crowdsourced efforts to improve things, but I don’t thinl that mmo players are our saviors.

  31. mitkoa says:

    I think she’s got something there. Talking about getting a lot of people to play a problem formulated as a game… She does screw her presentation with a lot of WOW MMO irrelevant stuff though.

  32. Kurt Lennon says:

    I agree that we should all play games more but not in order to solve the problems of the world. We should do it to take our minds off of the fact that there is absolutely nothing whatsoever the average person can do to influence the long term plans of those in power, apart from sit and watch as they ruin everything.

    Joy!

  33. Adrian Hon says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head – games and gamers are more complicated than they might seem to non-gamers, and the simple fact is that many very difficult problems (poverty, energy, politics, bigotry, etc) are not understood well enough (let alone agreed on) for a game to be made that could ‘solve’ them. And while point and reward systems can be good ways to encourage behaviours, they’re not exactly games – unless you think that Tesco Clubcard is a game.

    (I wrote more about this on my blog)

  34. Josmos says:

    She says “super awesome” alot and is from Berkly, and has a sign that says “I am making the future”. Seriously super annoying. Since when did Berkly give up its anti-capitalist past in favour of making behaviour adjusting computer games.

  35. Mad Doc MacRae says:

    This sounds too much like that other talk about getting points for brushing your teeth or whatever. I’m all about virtual escapism and stuff, but not the grindy parts so much.

  36. Robin says:

    It’s cute when marketing executives pretending to be game designers and scientists. Up to a point.

    Remember when TED talks could be reliably expected to (at least) not be a waste of time?

    • Leonard Hatred says:

      I don’t think gamers are her primary focus for this talk, despite being littered with references to Epic This and Epic That. Infact the flagrant use of gaming slang felt a little embarrassing – like the time your dad told you how ‘Rad’ he though something was in a misguided attempt to find some common linguistic ground.

      Instead this was clearly just videogames propaganda, and like it or loath it people like McGonigal are keystones of forcing videogaming into mainstream acceptance with their pseudo-socio-scientific hand-holding, positive thinking, can-do attitude bollocks.

      Maybe videogaming has come a long way from the nerdy social outcasts huddled around a school computer, basking in the eerie green glow of a monochrome monitor – nobody has monochrome monitors anymore afterall but shifting public perception is an ongoing process.

      Personally i can’t be arsed with any of this activism, i’d much rather play videogames. which goes a long way to shooting her argument down really. Just don’t tell the non-gamers.

  37. Fred says:

    I think her ancient example confuses cause and correlation. I doubt that gaming saved their culture so much as the end of the 20-year global cooling period saved their culture.

  38. Premium User Badge

    Jarmo says:

    Thank you for the powerfully moving presentation, Jane McGonigal and thank you for sharing it with us, RPS! Her talk was inspiring, empowering, optimism-inducing, useful and happy. It is one of the greatest talks I have ever experienced. Thank you.

  39. Robert Yang says:

    Jane McGonigal is one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. If you even know what an “ARG” is, some of the reason is her.

    • TeeJay says:

      “Annoying Recent Graduate”?

      Sorry, I don’t know what an ARG is. Why don’t you just tell us?

  40. penor says:

    Beauty adds to credibility? The best TED talks I’ve seen came from wrinkly faced scientisty-figures. This one was easily one of the worst. Maybe I’d go along with her story more if, uh, I don’t know, the content of the actual talk made more sense?

    Watching this video after the DICE talk and the TED talk from the economist who talks about people’s performance on tasks that have rewards (the candle problem), it becomes very hard to percieve any credibility in Jane’s talk. Also, these world-fixing games have existed since we have DOS, and they never worked.

    Did she also forget that games have existed in the time between that ancient dice game and computer games? Take soccer, for instance. In what way has that positively changed the world? It promotes chauvinism/nationalism and irrational tribalism. It is even a catalyst for meta-game man-on-man violence (hooliganism). Video games are just a mirror of humanity, just as every game was before. McGonical is only noticing certain positive aspects and taking them completely out of context.

    • Helm says:

      Yes when I first read that statement I thought ‘well, yes’ but then I went to the bathroom and while I was taking a leak I thought it over (as I often do) and I decided that beauty doesn’t necessarily add credibility to a source talking about scientific matters. It does add to the desire to *listen* to the person talking in the first place and that might have a cumulative effect to whether in the end one is convinced but it’s not the same thing.

      It’s a very safe assumption however that the speakers external appearance, body language and especially turns of phrase do directly add or subtract from the possibility of the listener going away from the talk feeling convinced and ready to propagate the new memetic information they’ve gathered. They count for I don’t know how much, but probably enough that it’d startle those more positivistically inclined who tend to disregard the subconscious and think arguments are about metrics, hard data and pure logic.

      In this way, a wrinkly old professor might be the *correct* external presentation of a lecturer talking about hard science and add more emotionally to his argument than an attractive young lady externality would.

      The TED talk here was interesting, I am neither convinced nor did I laugh at her arguments. Time will tell.

  41. Leonard Hatred says:

    I was playing a wee bit of TF2 last night, and my Gaming Experience prominently featured a chap screaming vitriolic homophobic abuse at his teammates over comms.

    i’m not sure what i learned but, i’m pretty sure it wasn’t constructive. On the plus side he had a funny accent.

    humanity is doomed, clearly.

  42. Latedave says:

    Its quite a nice idea but the key point really is that with games your limitations tend to be your skill level and the timesink you put into it. There’s little or no external factors, real world tends to be somewhat different!

  43. Dale says:

    Yeah the thing is, her new game is paid for by the World Bank. So before we talk about saving the world, lets talk about saving it from the people who do considerable harm to it, okay?

    The parody of her new game is http://www.urgentinvoke.com

  44. sharizard says:

    i would definitely hit it, shes got that cougar look going on

  45. Gijsbert dos Santos says:

    Ignoring the ‘epic’ words, I found the talk pretty interesting actually. There are lots of gamers that have logged an obscene amount of game-time in the last twenty years; they’ve gotten pretty good at *something*, now how can you make it useful? While I’m not entirely convinced she’s on the right track the concept itself seems promising.

  46. scrabblemoose says:

    eh stupid lecture.

    “wow players spent a lot of time grinding levels, let’s pretend they’re doing something productive”
    “people need hollow external reward systems implemented to make them good people because they need a pat on the back every time they do anything or they’ll never do anything”

    i can’t imagine someone with the wisdom to change the world the way she’s aiming for needing the pat on the back every fifteen minutes to get shit done.

  47. bill says:

    that was rather awesome.

    I wish i could do good public speaking…

  48. Marcel says:

    Pile a garbage.

    Your brain washed if you think she said anything worthwhile.

    “three billion hours a week playing online game”

    What a MASSIVE WASTE OF TIME.
    No wonder America cannot compete against china and the dollar is losing it’s value

  49. Marcel says:

    Her lecture is an insult from the Game Industry.

    They choose a beautiful blond woman because they know the majority of players are men.

    Reminds me of Jezebel …