For me, there is an easy and immediate satisfaction to gaming; however, I’m skeptical that the type of internal reward offered through gaming can be translated into the skin-and-bones external world we live and work in. I, like so many others, have spent hours staring at a screen voluntarily, but half-heartedly, participating in a game with no other intent but to kill time. The rational side of my mind told me that there were a million other, better, and more useful things to do, but the addictive side of my brain said “keep playing, it will help.” It seems dangerous to give gaming the kind of power McGonigal gives it when realistically, the “happiness” triggers she speaks of—the circuitry of the reward centers—essentially contribute to addictions. I’ve never known an addiction to be healthy. Clearly McGonigal is highly intelligent, but the concept of “flow” sounds a little crazed. Drug addictions are the closest thing I can think to compare. If quitting and “winning—” which, I suppose, in an addict’s case, would be achieving sobriety—are equally unsatisfying in flow, then the gameplay—or drug usage— would be endless and infinite. I also can’t help but think after reading this that now there are going to be millions of kids in their rooms, who never go outside and play or pick up a book, who will attempt to use McGonigal’s theory as justification for playing video games 24-7. I understand that she is certainly not suggesting that we all become video game junkies—her idea, instead, is to integrate the addictive qualities of video games to our REAL lives—to things that help us rather than hurt us. I’m still not convinced with McGonigal’s argument that playing pretend games actually makes us happier than participating in our real lives— that is a sobering thought if it’s true.
Her insight into hard work vs. play on the other hand, is a universal truth: “in our real lives, hard work is too often something we do because we have to do it… Hard work that someone else requires us to do just doesn’t activate our happiness systems in the same way….” Because games are not the only thing that can offer us positive reinforcement, though, it is difficult to fully embrace McGonigal’s enthusiasm and confidence. “Compared with games, reality is too easy. Games challenge us with voluntary obstacles and help us put our personal strengths to better use”— so does a workout for an athlete or a perfect picture for a painter. McGonigal quotes Bernard Suit’s: “’playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles’”—yes, but so is everything else we do in life when it comes down to the basics. We don’t actually have to do any of the things we do, we don’t have to be overwhelmed with self-imposed demands, or struggle with ourselves over self-imposed restrictions—we simply understand the reality of real life rewards and consequences, and we actively or inactively respond and live accordingly. Farmville coins will not buy us real, consumable food. Getting up in the morning and going to work will. If we turned McGonigal’s theory into practice, we would essentially be making a game out of life. We’ve all heard the old expression, ‘life is not a game,’ but now I’m starting to wonder: wouldn’t it be better if we played it like one? Could we even play it like one, without the reset button and all?