Casually Hardcore: Redefining The Game

This week, I decided to take a more abstract look at games – this article is actually inspired more by a book that I just purchased this past weekend than any game I have recently played. The book is Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, by game designer and researcherReality is Broken Jane McGonigal, and frankly, I urge everyone reading this to pick up a copy.

Having only read about a third of the way through the book so far, I can’t quite hearken back to the days of elementary school and write up a book report just yet, but the ideas that have been presented so far have certainly been food for thought.

The main objective McGonigal has – to my understanding – is debunking the myth that video games cannot be used for the continually sought-after “greater good”. From what I have read already, she systematically builds up the concept of a game, redefining and revolutionizing the taboo definition that gamers are saddled with day-in and day-out; that games are nothing but time-wasters. From there, she proceeds to point to the benefits, and the spurring effect that games can have on an individual to reach higher and find more satisfaction from the sometimes uninspiring “real life”. She argues that games aren’t necessarily an unjustifiable escape from reality, but rather an escape that can be warranted, and can most certainly be productive.

Using her arguments as a basis, I started to examine my own views on games, and how these indeed might have been influenced by the vocal members of a society that has decided games are this generation’s “devil-music”. In a world in which the number of gamers steadily increases, I find it absurd that the stereotype of a person with no valuable contribution to society is still the label that gamers are zealously branded with. I will certainly admit to a bit of embarrassment when confessing that, “yeah… I’m a gamer.” What, however, is the harm in wanting my downtime to be filled with something that, at the very least, simulates productivity?

We, as gamers, are not a different kind of human – I can’t even begin to understand the thought that gamers as a whole are not contributing members of society. We have jobs, families, school, and situations where we shine, interact or funnel our expertise outside of the virtual arena. That games factor into our lives should not be a strike against us; rather, it should just be another component of what makes us who we are. Liken a preference of role-playing games over first person shooters to a preference of fish over steak; both are traits that can combine with countless others to make the many diverse individuals that populate the world.

As I mentioned before, McGonigal views games as a previously untapped medium for social change and improving life. Her idea is not altogether unappealing; if so many are stuck in “dead-end jobs”, with eyes glued on the clock for the sweet bliss of being able to leave the prison that is their work, why not at least make the effort to integrate the massive success of games into something like the workplace, which may get the “job” done, but definitely does it in a way that does not tap into our potential to be happy and productive. At the very least, we lose nothing from trying to improve not only ourselves, but also our collective selves.

What do you think? Is it possible for games to transition into a role that can have a positive, widespread effect on people? Or is the realm of games only as far-reaching as a way to pass the time?

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