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reality is broken

A fix for Reality is Broken.

It’s frustratingly easy to criticize McGonigal’s work. The credibility of her argument hinges on vague psychological citations and self-produced blanket statements on current global temperaments. She assumes her readers are bored with life. I am not, so dealing with this problem kept me from becoming engaged in her work. Her writing style flatly and systematically explores her vision, aligning the text with the technical and inartistic. The text lacks both the pleasures of literary mastery and a grounding in a reality that I recognize.

Having said that, I found Reality is Broken to offer fascinating insight into reality design. McGonigal is not a writer. She is a game designer. Similarly, Reality is Broken is not a book; it’s a game. McGonigal attempts to design a reality for her reader that feels like a game. She is trying to bridge the gap between playing and not playing with the medium of literature. Her book becomes the rulebook for the game of life.

Our subjective perspectives make each of our understanding of reality different. McGonigal projects her interpretation of the reality onto the reader as the basis for her argument. This is not congruent with my experience of Earth and I’m sure many of you had similar thoughts (I was particularly thrown by her weight scientifically objectified vision of happiness). Let’s just get to it:

-Videogames are a great metaphor for life. They are fun and risky and have strong psychological rewards. We definitely should be getting these things out of life.

-Reading Reality is Broken took me out of life and made me crave it. Good for the book’s agenda, bad for the book.

-The book talks about making a game out of everything, but the book’s format was not a game. Why? This drove me crazy. It was not engaging. If your going to use the medium of text, you need understand the art of writing has always endeavored to do the this. Content is bound to medium. I understand McGonigal is not a writer. She does not have the ability to wield text like a game in itself. But there was no reason she couldn’t directly include self-referential insight that related the reading the book to a game. That would have been sticky. That would have really bridged the gap between game and reality.

-Videogame terminology is an advanced way to discuss maximizing life. +1 rad point

-Everyone should be actively designing their reality rather than passively accepting a given framework.

-Fully utilizing technology, especially in networking contexts like MMOs, is key to unlocking human potential and creating a better real world.

-Reality could be like a constant boss level. We only have one life, so the pressure is on. We aren’t necessarily wagering that mortality, but we are wagering quality and happiness. It seems like material and social success would naturally follow.

-Designed reality and living in a delusional perspective have a fine line. Balancing the game of life takes care and active networking with friends, family, and society.

These are some of my main thoughts from the book. Even though it was a bear to get through, the book has some good insight. My biggest problem, as I mentioned above, is that the book was not a fun game to read! Why not? I’d pose the same question about this class.



5 thoughts on “A fix for Reality is Broken.

  1. I agree that the book is open to critique. In my experience, everything is open to critique, and critique is interminable. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t critique or that critique is not valuable, only that there are limits to the usefulness of critique (and there I have critiqued critique). As a popular nonfiction book, this text is less than scholarly. So as a scholar one would certainly need to examine more closely the research on which she makes her claims. Positive psychology is a legitimate field of study. Not everyone agrees with it, of course. That’s the nature of academic research; people disagree. Furthermore, upon closer study of positive psychology, we might take issue with the way she deploys it here.

    I am also interested in your question about why the book and the class are not fun games. Let’s consider this from what McGonigal has offered us.

    1. Unnecessary obstacles: Do we view the class or book as a set of challenges that we have elected to take on? Or have they been imposed on us? If we have not chosen to perform these activities, then it is hard for them to seem like a game. I’d say this is partly a matter of perspective. To what extent are you able to see yourself as having agency over the things you do? When we don’t have agency, it’s hard to enjoy what’s going on.

    2. Flow: Can we reach a state where our abilities are being challenged? Where we are pushing ourselves and finding success? This week, you all are deciding on which grade contract you want. Most people say “A.” It’s understandable that students want to get A’s, but that’s an extrinsic motivation. I want to get paid for my work as a professor; that’s an understandable extrinsic motivation for me. But those motivations are not sufficient to drive any of us to do really great, creative work; nor are they sufficient to make the experience fun or meaningful. They won’t get us into a flow state. We need intrinsic motivations as well.

    What might those be? Maybe you really want to have an in-depth understanding of the humanistic study of videogames and gaming culture. Maybe you’d aspire to publish videogame reviews. Maybe you’d want to write a scholarly essay that got published in a journal of undergraduate research. Maybe you’d want to go to graduate school in media study and you could write a research paper in this class that would get you in. Maybe you’d like to enter the videogame industry and this class could be a place where you start figuring that out. Maybe you’re super-passionate about videogaming (or a particular game) and you’d like to share that passion with the class and the world (this is a public website). Getting passionately involved in thinking, studying, and discussing an issue can be fun and rewarding. It probably doesn’t have the immediate, sensory stimulation of a videogame or a movie, to saying nothing of more embodied immersive experiences in life, but they might have more duration and significance in the long term.

    So why might one experience the book (or class) as boring? If we follow with Csíkszentmihály, boredom comes in situations where our skill level is moderate and the challenge level is low. So we have one of two options. If we can increase our skill level (in this case, become better readers and scholars of media), then we can enter a state of relaxation, where reading an introductory text for a general audience like this one becomes so easy as to be relaxing (like taking a stroll). Or we can raise the challenge level for ourselves and move toward states of arousal and flow. That seems like the more likely course of action.

    How do we make the class more challenging for ourselves? Well, that’s a matter of intrinsic motivation. Do we want to up the ante or would we prefer to wallow in states of apathy, boredom, and relaxation?

    Posted by Alex Reid | May 28, 2013, 9:43 am
    • New games are constantly being designed to revitalize unnecessary obstacles. Reality, as McGonigal puts it is, “Too easy, depressing, unproductive, hopeless, disconnected, [etc].” The game designer puts in the work to make it better. While McGonigal praises the gamer’s fiero, she’s getting much deeper levels of naches. It’s great for our class to talk about the nice abstractions of applying gaming to life, but the proof is in the pudding. In any class context, its more than fair to say I’m a player. The professor gives me the grade; the professor designs the course. If a book like McGonigal’s and a class on video games are not redesigning the obstacles and landscapes of their respective mediums (as you could guess, I prefer Bogost’s style) then its up to me to take the majority of initiative in implementing the designs they are impressing. That doesn’t reflect an intrinsic reward system like the one Reality is Broken calls for. Yes, I do have bigger goals outside of this course, but that has little to do with what I’d like to say. I’m playing this game now, so I’d like intrinsic rewards to be here instead of just being displaced into the future. I’m all for getting the most out of things, but dealing with a design that’s apathetic, relaxed, or standard makes me do all the work. Its an alternating current. If it was just up to me, I could create a tension between you and I to make a real weighted challenge. But its not just up to me, its up to us. I’m just a designer myself and, naturally, I always want to do it better. When I’m in the player position, I like to play. I’m optimistic, because I’m hoping that’s the kind of risk you were asking for. Communication is my favorite game.

      Posted by chasecon | May 28, 2013, 12:01 pm
      • Sure, I’d say that was a worthy risk. By definition, intrinsic rewards are inside. What are the rewards the course can offer? They are much like the rewards a game can offer: a high score, a badge. But these are not the rewards that make a game satisfying. It’s a fair analogy to see a student like a player. The objective is to win/get an A. But winning a game won’t necessarily make it fun or valuable. I can totally dominate my 12 year-old son in basketball. As a player, you want winning to be a challenge. You wouldn’t be satisfied with winning all the time. You may not “want” to fail, but you’d want the risk of failure. Is the same true in the classroom? Do you want a class where even if you try your very hardest you still stand a chance of failure? Would you be happy with straight A’s in a way that you wouldn’t be happy with a game that poses no challenge? I’m not seeking to make this personal, that’s a general “you.” My point is the analogy between games and classrooms does break down at some point because the motivations for playing a game and taking a class are different and they have different cultural consequences.

        You call upon this class to redesign the obstacles and landscapes of the classroom. I wonder what you have in mind. I wonder, first, if many students are not in an unfamiliar classroom landscape, operating in a blog on the public web. Yes, it is a familiar place to some degree, though I imagine many students at UB have never blogged before. But it is not a common classroom landscape. Second, I would wonder how many students have taken classes with a grading contract. I’m guessing not many, even though grading contracts have been around since the 60s.

        Here’s the interactive challenge that faces all the students in this class. There are currently 61 posts and 50 comments on this site. How many have you read? When you write a post, are you continuing a conversation from some previous post or are you just soliloquizing? Does it matter if anyone reads your work? The most viewed student post on this site is this https://eng380newmedia.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/the-wonders-of-immersion/. It’s been viewed six times. You could take a look at the first assignment I gave the class: https://eng380newmedia.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/reality-is-broken-part-one/. It should have resulted in 3 comments on each student’s post about Reality is Broken. As a class, we just didn’t do the work. We failed at that challenge. We clearly didn’t even read enough of one another’s posts to be able to undertake that work.

        So how does one evaluate that result? Was the task of reading and responding to posts too difficult? Are students just lazy? Do they just want to play the game/take the class on “easy” level and do the minimum? Were the initial posts so lacking in content/interest that other students couldn’t find a way in? Should people fail? That would be considered good design for a game. You just have to restart, which you could do here as well… next summer when the course is offered again. Obviously that’s not going to happen because the stakes here are different.

        My point is that one can redesign the obstacles and the landscapes of the classroom so that success requires different behaviors from students. But what happens when student behaviors don’t change? This is really not a question about this class. It’s a general question. I run the university’s first-year composition program with 1000s of students in 100s of sections every year. Those students have spent 12 years in public schools learning to behave in certain ways. We ask them to behave differently. To take responsibility for their own learning, to find a personal reason, an intrinsic motivation, for writing… because in the end, you’ll only become a better writer if you want to. Makes sense, right? But it’s not that simple.

        Posted by Alex Reid | May 28, 2013, 1:09 pm
    • I really like the questions you raised here and wanted to respond to them:

      Making the decision to pursue an advanced education is, by nature, a self-imposed and unnecessary obstacle. That being said, we have elected to take this class on, and this class has also been imposed on us. I made the decision to pursue a career in writing; of course I understood that the only way to do so was to earn an advanced degree. I was passionate about writing, but I was not passionate about the degree requirements and extra-curricular resume boosters—although they are part of the territory. What I may ultimately get from accepting and working through the challenge of those restrictions, however, will allow me to do the things I’m passionate about in the long run. College often becomes one long course on how to get by, and I constantly need to remind myself that it is so much more. Too often we are simply going through the motions, and are certainly not being motivated to produce any great or creative work. The experience should be fun and or meaningful, but we are all extrinsically motivated by the fact that earning a degree allows us more success in the world—financially and otherwise—, and through the imposition of degree requirements (like an English major needing a Math class), we lose the initial intrinsic motivations that drove us to take these challenges on in the first place. I believe that, as students, maybe our skill level is moderate, and not that the challenge level is too low, but that the challenges may be more appropriate focused away from erroneous degree requirements and geared toward stimulating our creativity and excitement—like in a video game .

      Posted by jowz24 | May 28, 2013, 3:37 pm
  2. Posted by chasecon | May 28, 2013, 12:00 pm

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