Back in 2009, a few months prior to being kicked out of Harper Collins I had the good fortune to be passed the manuscript for Reality is Broken – Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Though not the complete text, McGonigal’s manifesto immediately struck a chord with me. The premise – that reality can be ‘fixed’ by the lessons learned through playing games was an exciting and unique one. If the feeling of achievement (called ‘fiero’), of conquering an unnecessary obstacle could be harnessed in everyday life then we may be all to not only make our own lives better, but also address bigger challenges, to change society and save the world through playing games.

I petitioned for Harper Press to buy the book, but they (foolishly) turned it down. The good news was that Jonathan Cape didn’t and I was now able to read the whole text of McGonigal’s examination and call-to-action for games playing. The book details how the games industry has created a worldwide community of problem solvers, cooperators and digital natives for whom it is not simply enough to consume – e.g. through retail or television (one of the salient points for marketers was ‘gamers consume less’ – there’s a challenge right there).

McGonigal’s ambition is to see a games designer nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, that’s going to be quite an achievement – but with the sort of connectivity the world now has, eminently doable. The prospect of enhancing people’s lives through play is certainly an exciting one to think about and promote. Games such as the awesome Folding@Home truly show the potential of what could be achieved by the sheer numbers of players involved in a worldwide problem-solving game with a real world-changing outcome.

I think the outcomes do need to be ‘world-changing’. One of the stand-out points of the book for me is that gamers need that epic scale to involve them in a game or project. For example, I don’t think I’d need to turn my daily commute or work grind into a game (arguably Foursquare already does do this!). The threat of poverty is enough motivation for me continuing to work. However if there were games that could benefit my life, my family, my community and involved me in an epic storyline of good vs evil (cos that appeals to me) then I would be all for it.

McGonigal sees everyone as a potential super-hero, games she’s created or been involved with such as Superbetter or the Top Secret Dance Off bring super-hero aspects to their rules and achievements. Sometimes this feels a little forced, like the book is becoming a self-help guide to ‘unlock your potential’, but for me McGonigal’s thinking is sound, she’s simply placing her games within easily recognisable situations, cultural shorthand to help you play.

I think if you have an interest in games, marketing or making yourself and the world a better place then I recommend Reality is Broken. It may not have the same visceral gut-punch you got reading No Logo but I believe it’s a much more unique book than that. Read it today for +10 knowledge, ideas and opinion.

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