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reality is broken

Flow, fiero, and the problem of dividing gaming from the ‘real world’

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.



4 thoughts on “Flow, fiero, and the problem of dividing gaming from the ‘real world’

  1. I think the point that McGonigal was trying to make is that in many of the current careers workers are hardly challenged and often given tasks that they either understand the importance of or can see any direct outcome from. As an example an employee is given the task of entering numbers into the computer from data provided by another employees report. After a few weeks the employee has no clue why he is entering the numbers let alone if anyone is even using them later, this eventually will lead to the employee feeling unfulfilled and most likely will be more likely to make mistakes. She states that within the gaming universe that a player is tasked with a goal in mind “Save the princess”, “kill the wizard”. If this was all that they gave the player they too may become less inclined to care about the goal but they tell you about how the evil warlord attacked a peaceful kingdom and has taken the princess hostage and without your help the kingdom will surely fall. This then gives you the feeling of performing a feat that is both rewarding and helpful. When the challenge is complete you are then rewarded and the next time you enter the castle the villagers are happy and everyone is at peace once again.

    I think you were taking this scheme of gaming and applying it directly to this situation, but I think it would be that the situation would use the template of goal oriented performance with clear achievements. The new situation would be that the employee is in a meeting with the boss and is told why he is entering these numbers and how the company needs these reports to be complete so that they can better track the needs of their customers. Then when the meeting occurs where they look over the information and potentially implement new policies due to these numbers the employee would be asked to join and the employee could directly see the fruits of his labor and observe the impact they had. The employee was given a goal as well as why that goal was important and when it was finished an effect was able to be viewed allowing the employee to take pride in the task. To change these two stories and provide a better sense of purpose would be only a difference of those two meetings and occasional thumbs up or even to support the failure idea, provide constructive criticism. Simple, yet two different scenarios which could have a major difference in outcome.

    Posted by diomazurek | May 22, 2013, 3:26 pm
    • I am honestly not convinced that employees do not know the reason behind their seemingly-pointless or tiringly-repetitive job, so I have a hard time being convinced of this argument. Certainly I have never worked in an office environment so perhaps employees are not given outlined instructions of their tasks or a job description when they apply for or accept the job. Creating a game out of work certainly could be fun for some people but I cannot imagine it being effective in the long term or that more than a few people would be interested in participating. For example, the final two years of high school my French classes were composed, I’d say say about 75%, by games. We worked in groups as small as partners to as large as half the class. In one game, a word would be said in English and using a fly swatter, the two players representing their team in that round would have to hit the corresponding French word on the chalkboard. Day in and day out, we were constantly having to move around the room, choose new groups, and learn new rules. Then, I took French 104 at UB and realized how much I had forgotten from middle school French or simply did not know; mind you, I got a 100 almost every single semester of French in high school and middle school. I wholeheartedly, along with other classmates, believed playing games constantly was incredibly ineffective. We all went into the final exam our senior year terrified that we had not learned anything to pass. The games not only took out time from actual learning and recitation but forced us to socially interact when we just didn’t feel like it, learn more and more rules, and search for the correct answer or to get the fastest time rather than LEARNING conjugations and grammar.

      Finally, if an employee does not care enough about their job to begin with I simply cannot see how making it into a game would help. A game provides external motivation but that just cannot make up for self-motivation. My final example would be from my first job. As a retail store, getting customers to apply for credit cards was an integral part of sales. For the last few months I was there, a different competition was set up every month to encourage employees to solicit every person who walked in the door. At this point, I was frustrated with being forced to sell something I neither agreed with (over 20% interest rate) nor felt that I was in the correct position to sell (I did not work the cash registers, where most of the credit card sales took place) so the competition did not spur me to accost every customer. We could have won prizes, like an extra dollar for each credit card application we got or a gift card. I simply just did not care. I knew the goal, I knew the rules, I knew why it was important, but that just did not matter. However, when starting my new job, which I thoroughly enjoy, we had a competition to sell the promotional item – Himalayan salt lamps. I won that competition. I had fun. These were two similar competitions but the difference is that before it started I was already dedicated to the task. The difference is that I enjoyed the job and I cared about it. Certainly, a game CAN make something more fun, but I just do not feel it can replace self-motivation or an internal concern for something.

      Posted by emmajani | May 23, 2013, 11:02 am
  2. Being an athlete and outdoors lover myself, my initial thoughts on McGonigal’s points mirrored yours. As I read on I kept picturing the world if Jane had her way, and the images of the morbidly obese people floating around in chairs from the movie Wall-E kept poppiBeing an athlete and outdoors lover myself, my initial thoughts on McGonigal’s points mirrored yours. As I read on I tried picturing the world if Jane had her way, that is if the planet revolved around videogames, and the images of the morbidly obese people floating around in chairs from the movie Wall-E kept popping up. Is that not what the stereotypical gamer is portrayed as? However later on she broadens her spectrum by including Nike+ and other outdoor games so I suppose she saved herself on that one. But I still think videogames are like the McDonalds of adrenaline rushes. Something so quick to please can’t be everlasting. On the other hand, a skill that takes more than just a tutorial to master would seem to me much more satisfying.
    My other gripe about McGonigal is her naivety. She seems to think that everybody is as level headed as she is. However, there are countless Youtube videos displaying kids absolutely losing their minds as a result of a videogame failure or crazed soccer fans waging war outside of the stadium that prove otherwise. Even if the world were turned into a big game, the competitive nature in all of us would disrupt the fluidity of it, as it does with most things.

    Posted by sccrdude540 | May 23, 2013, 4:39 pm
    • Yes, I completely agree with you! Another point I’m having a hard time reconciling with that she makes is that if everything were structured like a game, people would do it for the intrinsic rewards, rather than for things like money and more cars. However, these material goods are entirely arbitrary measures of value – as are those in games. If what you care about is getting more points and leveling up, you’re no different than people who are concerned with earning a larger salary, thinking that will make them happy. In the example of Lost Joules, I could not help but think – “…or you could just care enough about the environment on your own to shut the lights off…” I think turning things into games would just turn the rewards of gaming into the extrinsic rewards she, to be colloquial, hates on throughout the book. Like working at a job you do not care about simply to get the salary, playing a game that makes you do something you don’t care about for the virtual rewards cannot be maintained as a way to be happy.

      Posted by emmajani | May 24, 2013, 12:12 pm

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