I tried to like this book. I really did.
Reality Is Broken presents a well-researched analysis about what attracts us to video games, what we get out of them, and why we keep coming back for more.
On the other hand, the book builds on this analysis with a bunch of head-in-the-clouds hippie claptrap.
McGonical’s thesis is that we can apply the same principles that attract us to games (especially “social games”) to other aspects of work and life in order to make us more happy and productive. She has good intentions, but her vision seems limited when she lays out the details.
She explores how games affect our emotions, often providing terms for feelings I recognize as a gamer. For example:
- Fiero. The sense of exultation from accomplishing a difficult task.
- Flow. The continuous stimulation that comes from immersion in a creative work; leaving the game, whether by winning or losing, brings you down.
- Gamer Regret. The feeling that you’re missing out on real life by playing video games.
In a nutshell, we enjoy — in fact, we get positive physiological feedback from — overcoming obstacles and achieving goals. In a game, we know there are always ways to achieve those goals, a courtesy that real life does not always extend.
Unfortunately, the book goes off the rails when it attempts to apply these principles to non-game situations.
McGonical deconstructs a number of popular social media games, including some she had a hand in developing. She knows how they work and how to make them popular. More importantly, she firmly believes their principles can be readily applied to real-life situations.