Book review: Reality is Broken

This was one of my favorite reads for 2011.

Are you a gamer? Do you know someone who is? This book breaks down just what it is about games that people find so compelling. It also turns conventional wisdom entirely on its end. Gamers are typically shamed for their hobby. But this book makes the claim that it’s not gamers and gaming that are broken. It’s reality that’s broken:

“As we make these value judgments, hold moral debates over the addictive quality of games, and simultaneously rush to achieve massive industry expansion, a vital point is being missed. The fact that so many people of all ages, all over the world, are choosing to spend so much time in game worlds is a sign of something important, a truth that we urgently need to recognize.

“The truth is this: in today’s society, computer and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy. Games are providing rewards that reality is not. They are teaching and inspiring and engaging us in ways that reality is not. They are bringing us together in ways that reality is not.”

The results of the happiness studies are surprising. It turns out that many of the activities we turn to when trying to give ourselves a mood boost, such as relaxing, eating chocolate, or watching television, actually have a depressive effect. Gaming, however, is genuinely mood-boosting, and your mood stays boosted even after you’ve stopped playing. The book explains why that is.

It talks about flow and fiero, the two elements that make gaming happiness-inducing.

The first third of the book is the detailed analysis of gaming and gamers and the psychological research that’s been done. The second two-thirds is about experimental new games designed to harness all those things about gaming that make it such an appealing activity, and use it to increase engagement in the real world, or fix real-world problems. This part of the book didn’t interest me quite as much as the first part, but I did think it was intriguing. The author is a visionary who thinks outside the box, and I appreciated seeing this very different worldview.

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