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reality is broken

Getting real about gaming

You should be finishing up Reality is Broken today. In the conclusion, McGonigal writes:

Reality is too easy. Reality is depressing. It’s unproductive, and hopeless. It’s disconnected, and trivial. It’s hard to get into. It’s pointless, unrewarding, lonely, and isolating. It’s hard to swallow. It’s unsustainable. It’s unambitious. It’s disorganized and divided. It’s stuck in the present. Reality is all of these things. But in at least one crucially important way, reality is also better: reality is our destiny.

Reality is one of those things about which we may not agree. For the religious or spiritual, reality may have been created with some intrinsic meaning, given to it by God for example. This does not seem to be McGonigal’s view, however. Her reality builds upon a more secular understanding of reality as lacking intrinsic meaning: it is up to us to make life meaningful. To follow along this secular view, in some respects, making meaning is unavoidable. Our brains have evolved to perform complex tasks of pattern recognition, including symbolic behaviors (e.g. language), which further enhance our capacity for constructing meaning. We might say that all meaning is composed: religious beliefs, scientific laws, personal memories, national histories, etc. However, if we said that, we’d need to distinguish between saying something is composed and saying something is fictional or unreal. We can compose fictions, of course, but we can also compose knowledge of reality.

As I see it, the negative emotions McGonigal ascribes to reality in the passage above are also our compositions. We compose reality as depressing or trivial. Such compositions may not be the product of “free will;” we may not choose to make reality depressing, but we do make it so. Because we compose the real in this way, we have the opportunity to compose it otherwise. There are limits to these compositions, to be sure. The real world has a materiality and force all its own to which we must respond. We can compose better or worse knowledge about the world. We might discover, for example, that new agricultural methods are more likely to produce a good crop than a ritual to appease some god.

The intersection of digital media with the longstanding practices of gaming creates an opportunity for developing new ways of composing knowledge about the world. Or at least this is McGonigal’s view.

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About Alex Reid

Associate Professor and Director of Composition in the English Department at the University at Buffalo

Discussion

One thought on “Getting real about gaming

  1. There really are two sides to reality, as you said intrinsic and, in return, extrinsic. The depressing reality that many people feel is really just an overexposure to the extrinsic portion of reality. The extrinsic properties of reality are the compositions of meanings like religion or scientific laws. These are events that have happened, and are set in stone no matter what you do. To balance this out, people make up fictional ‘memories’, laws, theories that would fall under the intrinsic portion of reality. The body and society tries to naturally balance both halves of reality but keeps a heavier portion of extrinsic and a lighter portion of intrinsic. When our reality becomes too extrinsic often times we become rigid, robotic, and stressed. We feel as though we have no control over what we do and that is when we search for an escape. For gamers, playing games, solving puzzles, roaming aimlessly in a vastly large world is their fantasy, their fictional escape that allows for a re balance.

    Posted by jbort94 | May 24, 2013, 5:51 pm

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