Intrinsic Rewards, Extrinsic Influence, and Faulty Definition of “Hard Work”

Jane McGonigal claims that extrinsic rewards are “money, material goods, status, and or praise” (45).  She concludes that these extrinsic rewards are a “sure path to sabotaging our own happiness” (45).  McGonigal claims that intrinsic rewards are “the positive emotions, personal strengths, and social connections” that people make with the “world” (45).  She later claims that intrinsic rewards are based on hard work and that extrinsic rewards decease happiness[1] (46).

Although there is some validity to her appreciation for intrinsic rewards, her assertion that hard-core gamers are “opting out” of the “hedonic grind” of reality is an overstatement.  In fact, her overstatement is underscored when she claims, “Games don’t fuel our appetite for extrinsic reward: they don’t pay us, they don’t advance our careers, and they don’t help us accumulate luxury goods” (50).  When World of Warcraft (WoW) alone produces 5 million dollars daily (53), the industry behind the entertainment and gaming industries only works within extrinsic terms.  McGonigal is assuming that gamers themselves only play games for intrinsic rewards.  She is unintentionally defining gamers as being outside extrinsic rewards (praise, money, and/or status).  Her logic assumes that every single gamer is similar—motived by the same drives, living by the moral/ethical principles.  There is the possibility that when gamers leave a game, they could go back to the “hedonic grind” of reality willingly.  Although intrinsic rewards could drive McGonigal, who is a video game designer[2], she is not every single gamer and should not assume all gamers hold the same values as her.

McGonigal’s intrinsic reward is tied to an understanding of hard work.  She defines games and gamers as hard work/ers.  She argues that people crave hard work to make them happy and that “reality is unproductive” (55).  She claims that WoW is “thrilling and high-stakes: it offers battling powerful opponents you’re barely strong enough to fight” (53).  If productivity and high-stakes means a person’s ability to battle a WoW character, then McGonigal could be correct.  But, if that same person can return to the graveyard and keep performing the same monotonous actions perpetually, the only productive accomplishment could be paying for a WoW account.  The only high-stakes task could be not getting bored or frustrated.  Again, McGonigal is setting up her argument too loosely.  She develops false analogies or outright overstatements to prove a weak point.  Although her comments could be charming to one type of reader, there is another reader that questions if she understands the concept of hard work.

By the end of Part One of Reality is Broken, McGonigal cannot escape the interdependence of intrinsic and extrinsic forces.  Her argument is further complicated when she loosely associates hard work with WoW.  In unison, these factors could make some readers excited, while other readers could struggle with taking her position seriously.


[1] In short, she gives the premise of The Great Gatsby. On a side note, reading and understanding literature also fits her criteria of a game.

[2] There are the material rewards she gets for designs, publications, and conferences (unless she is like a Catholic nun who lives a life of poverty for the sake of God and the salvation of the needy).

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