McGonigal makes the assertion that there are a number of aspects of games that if applied to society’s problems, there could be significant improvement. She cites Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychology and management professor and scholar, and his theory on “flow.” By Csikszentmihayli’s definition “flow” is the engaging state of working at the very limit of one’s abilities. Gamers consider quitting and winning equally unsatisfying because the average gamer would rather continue playing the game than have it end all together. For them, the game is challenging but in all the right ways. Games are challenging, have clear goals, well-established rules for action, potential for increased difficulty and improvement, and are done for enjoyment (and not money/status/obligation). Because games are a choice and all the aspects of the game are agreed upon and accepted, the game becomes enjoyable and challenging rather than a chore. McGonigal makes the assertion that if we were to apply this technique to the mundane aspects of life, we could “engineer happiness.” By creating an environment that fosters happiness, we could make for a more productive society and a less depressed population. “If we continue to ignore what makes us happy we shall actively help perpetuate the dehumanizing forces which are gaining momentum day by day” (36). We need to structure real work like game work.
McGonigal also makes note of the concept of “epic” and “awe.” Epic is used to describe the most memorable, gratifying game experiences (not moments, but events) and awe is used to describe the moment in which we, as people, realize that we are in the presence of something bigger than ourselves. These epic events are something that “far surpasses the ordinary, especially in size, scale, and intensity” (98). McGonigal uses the example of Halo to describe epic events, projects, and contexts. These three key ways that Halo is considered to be epic create a bigger mission, provoke grandeur, and establish cooperative efforts. The bigger the situation, the more epic, and thus the more awe inspiring. However, she asserts that game engineers are not the first of their kind to create epic environments. In fact, nature itself does this daily. There are countless examples of natural epic environments. Natural epic environments remind us of the amazing power of nature while built epic environments are the result of a human accomplishment and are therefore both humbling AND empowering. This gives people a greater sense of purpose. By contributing to wiki’s and discussion forums, gamers are building a greater collective knowledge. If we were to create a more epic environment and/or a greater sense of purpose for our lives, we are likely to be more invested and less depressed.
Also check out this TEDtalk featuring Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi!