Throughout the first part of Reality is Broken, I could not help but question McGonigal’s entire premise. I simply cannot understand how structuring reality more like games would make people happier and engage more actively in the world, thereby making the world a better place. My first instinct is to question the simple logistics of creating such a reality: sitting on one’s couch certainly could not do more good for the world than say, volunteering at an animal shelter or planting a tree to offset the carbon footprint using a computer creates. However, with any philosophy, thinking about logistics is entirely out of the question. So, I attempt to move through these pages without writing too many nasty questions next to heavily underlined sentences.
Much of her description of the emotions while playing a game certainly make sense, particularly fiero and flow. Most recently, I felt such a sense of triumph, or fiero, when I played my clarinet for the first time in a year a few days ago; I had not lost too too much of my old abilities. When I was running up and down the stairs at Delaware Park after a run this week, I felt that flow: I had my end goal; my rules were that I could not run too fast or I’d trip, and I had to run for a specific distance at the top and bottom of the steps before completing the next set; my feedback loop happened each time I finished a set (one step closer to finishing); and I willingly undertook this activity. As McGonigal suggests, finishing was not nearly as satisfying as doing the workout.
I have to question why she separates video games from reality. Certainly, the world of video games is not the world of live human interaction, but the reality which takes place at my job is highly different than the reality of being at a friend’s house. No portion of one’s reality is the same as another portion. I feel that video gaming is not separate from reality because it occurs within real live time and space. Sudnow’s statement that at a restaurant he was “just waiting to get back to the game” further proves that reality and video games are already intrinsically linked, and suggests it is a rather negative relationship (McGonigal 40). I believe this phenomenon, which McGonigal refers to as ‘flow’ but to me seems more like addictive behavior, removes one from a particular engagement with a particular portion of reality. One aspect of Sudnow’s ‘real world’, his engagement with Breakout, flowed (pun intended) into another portion of his ‘real world’. Simply because of this overlapping of ‘video game world’ with ‘real world’, reality and video games cannot be split.
To conclude my current thought process/rant, I have to address the problem dividing reality from video games creates. I feel it is a general notion that hobbies are a part of one’s reality, such as knitting, bodybuilding, and hiking. These activities hold the same properties of gaming (goals, rules, feedback systems, and voluntary participation) yet seem to be of a different category because McGonigal esteems the rapid satisfaction of games over the long-term pleasure derived from getting really good at other activities. Quite simply, she ignores the hobby aspect of human life stating that “Compared with games, reality is depressing”. If you’re a dancer, it could take you months to master a single move but when you do, you can not help but feel “Damn. That was awesome.” For me, the quick satisfaction of gaming may lead to short-term happiness in the individual but not for the world overall, and certainly not in the long-term. Even in working out, something people have enjoyed for thousands of years, which provides similar adrenaline rushes and satisfaction, the world is not a better place. All hobbies, while they create a community such as a knitting circle, are individualistic. Whether it’s an individual human working towards running a marathon or a soccer team training to win a championship, those not participating are isolated. When the game ends, or you nail a solo at a concert, or you write a fantastic science-fiction short story, it ends. As Soren Kierkegaard argues, those who rely on short-term achievements or activities for happiness are destined to despair. All hobbies and activities are short-term. Regardless of the hobby, you are undertaking it on your own and what you derive from it is entirely on your own. Furthermore, humans have participated in endless hobbies and pleasurable activities since work was invented and I have not seen a vast improvement in society.
At least with working out, you’re keeping your body healthy and increasing the chemical processes in that brain that create happiness. Physical health leads to long-term health, and ultimately long-term happiness. Maybe McGonigal will convince me further on that video games will make the world a better place, but for now, I’ll stick with walks in nature and books to get that flow going.