Jane McGonigal: How Games Make Life Better – Invest Like the Best

Key Takeaways

  • Many games are designed to put users into a state of flow where things are challenging, but not too difficult
  • There are 2.6 billion people who regularly play games on connected devices!
  • Since many video games don’t come with manuals or tutorials anymore, they’ve become great self-esteem building tools as kids have to teach themselves how to play (and ultimately win) – this builds up their self-confidence
    • “It’s the ultimate learning simulator and you realize if you can teach yourself, you can learn anything”
  • Create a bridge between video games and the real world and encourage kids to apply strategies learned from games to real-life situations
  • To make a game more fun, don’t make it easier, make it harder!
    • You can experience growth, improvement, and flow by switching up even the most basic of tasks such as brushing your teeth with your nondominant hand
  • Gaming to improve mental health:
    • If you have depression – play something like Pokemon Go (as an added bonus – it forces you to leave your house and get some exercise)
    • If you have anxiety – play small, focused, single-player games like Tetris

Intro

  • Jane McGonigal, PhD (@avantgame) is a world-renowned designer of alternate reality games – games that are designed to improve real lives and solve real problems. 

Books Mentioned

Video Games Are About Flow

  • If you go to a game developer conference, you’ll find that the one book every game developer has read is Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 
    • What’s the reason for this? – Many games are designed to put users into a state of flow where things are challenging, but not too difficult
      • Games are designed to be slightly harder than your current skill level (this is what makes it an interesting challenge)
      • To add: Your brain loves seeing evidence of growth – this is why games show your progress as you play

Using Video Games to Build Skills For Real Life

  • Since many video games don’t come with manuals or tutorials anymore, they’ve become great self-esteem building tools as kids have to teach themselves how to play (and ultimately win) – this builds up their self-confidence
    • “It’s the ultimate learning simulator and you realize if you can teach yourself, you can learn anything”
  • If you’re concerned about your kids playing video games, ask yourself:
    • Are they able to talk about the real skills and strengths they’re building from playing them? Or do they see games as separate from reality, as an escape?
    • “The worst thing you can say to a kid is, “Stop playing and do something real,’ or, ‘Stop wasting your time.’”
      • This just makes them feel like the skills they’re learning can’t be transferred to other areas of life
      • Instead – Create a bridge between video games and the real world and encourage kids to apply strategies learned from games to real-life situations

Get That T Up

  • Fun fact: Your testosterone levels can change when you’re playing a game – they’ll either go up or down depending on whether you’re playing with someone you do/don’t know
    • If someone is playing against an anonymous player, their testosterone levels will rise as they tend to dehumanize their opponent. This rise in testosterone can make you angrier/more frustrated, regardless of whether you win or lose.
      • This attitude can then spill over into real-life
        • Tip: If you’re going to play violent games online, play against people you know so your testosterone levels don’t shoot up too high and make you angry

What is a “game”?

  • The core ingredient for a game is an unnecessary obstacle that has been chosen to make your goal hard to achieve 
    • Look at the game of golf – the goal is to get a small ball into a small hole using only clubs
      • This provokes mental and physical creativity that gives players a growth experience as they get better little by little over time
  • To make a game more fun, don’t make it easier, make it harder!
    • You can experience growth, improvement, and flow by switching up even the most basic of tasks such as brushing your teeth with your nondominant hand
  • There are two types of games: finite and infinite games – A great book on the subject is Finite and Infinite Games
    • More game designers are embracing infinite games (in Fortnite, players can revive dead teammates to keep the game going)
      • More gaming companies are trying to build relationships with users and create games that never end
        • Candy Crush is still one of the top-grossing apps even though it’s been around for 10 years. Pokemon Go has about half a billion players 3 years after launch.
          • There’s always a new season or battle to be won – the game never ends

Amazon Makes Work Into A Video Game

  • Research shows that young men with college degrees get more stimulating benefits from playing video games compared to working $15/hour jobs (AND that they’d rather work fewer hours to spend more time playing video games)
    • Amazon recognized this research and began looking for ways to make warehouse work, which is mostly done by robots (the main human component is verifying that the robot retrieved the correct item), into a video game
      • Now – there’s a big screen in the warehouse which shows workers their packaging status/progress just like a video game

Jane’s Game: SuperBetter

  • Jane created SuperBetter, a game that helps players build resilience, achieve goals, and tackle challenges like anxiety, depression, stress, chronic pain, concussion recovery, and more
    • SuperBetter has been validated in a few published studies:
      • In a randomized controlled trial at the University of Pennsylvania and a clinical trial at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, playing SuperBetter improved seven pathways known to lead to higher resilience including optimism, self-efficacy, perceived social support, life satisfaction, reduced anxiety, reduced symptoms of depression, and reduced hopelessness.
      • In a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials evaluating smartphone apps for depression, SuperBetter had the greatest effect among 22 candidates for reducing symptoms of depression. In a similar meta-analysis, SuperBetter had the greatest effect among 9 apps at reducing symptoms of anxiety.
  • About 10 years ago, Jane got a bad concussion that severely affected her mental state, leading to depression and suicidal thoughts
    • Having studied psychology and the benefit of games, Jane decided to put her research to use and create a game that helped build personal resilience
      • The game is free and doesn’t have ads, it’s Jane’s gift to the world
  • SuperBetter has players create bad guys and ways to defeat them
    • Ex. – Many people struggle with insomnia (bad guy), so the game encourages players to take actions that can beat it (like making a list of positive things you can do during the night to help you fall asleep easier)

Additional Notes

  • There are 2.6 billion people who regularly play games on connected devices!
    • The tipping point in gaming was when gamers could connect to the internet and play with other gamers
  • In eSports, gamers usually lose their competitive advantage in their late 20s, much like professional athletes 
  • Gaming to improve mental health:
    • If you have depression – play something like Pokemon Go (as an added bonus – it forces you to leave your house and get some exercise)
    • If you have anxiety – play small, focused, single-player games like Tetris
  • Why are some games addicting?
    • Games are designed to have quick feedback loops and a proper balance of challenge/reward that encourages users to keep playing. Games also show players their current status and the progress they’ve made so far.
      • Meanwhile in life, to see your status and progress, you have to track your actions and accomplishments and the feedback loop is usually quite slow (ex. – losing 10 pounds can take 2-3 weeks)
  • Too many companies try to gamify their business – this is the wrong approach. Companies should hire experienced designers, not game designers. It isn’t about adding leaderboards or a point system, it’s about giving players a fun and engaging experience.
  • The Chinese government is creating a scoring system for citizens to see how it shapes their behavior
    • Your score will go up for positive behaviors (such as visiting your elderly relatives) which would then give you perks (such as access to faster healthcare)
    • Your score goes down for bad behaviors such as smoking in a non-smoking area – you’d then lose perks (such as access to better schools)
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