Christel House, Starbucks, and Kiva: What is a “fix”?

In part three of McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, she amplifies her thesis (how computer games can fix the world’s problems) and presents readers with examples of people using games “fix” reality’s problems.  Over the course of  part three, she highlights how games like FreeRice, which is a vocabulary game, allow gamers to win rice for hungry populations.  For every one word that is matched to a proper definition, one piece of rice is donated to a charity.  On average, 7000 people are fed per day from FreeRice.[1] McGonigal tells readers another example of gamers reaching out to another (less privileged) population: a mission from The Extraordinaries games helps Christel House, a world health organization, connect gamers to students taking “life-changing standardized tests” (253).  A gamer can send a text message to a student right before test as a “pat on the back” that may install encouragement.  McGonigal suggests that this type of interaction connects gamers to other people on an empathic level.  She cites her own experience with helping a student from India and informs readers: “The good game design of the Christel House mission changed that: it made it incredibly easy to play a helpful role in a stranger’s life. I t showed me a capacity to help I didn’t know I had” (255).

On the surface level of McGonigal’s personal experience, her story is like what Zizek refers to as the ultimate from of capitalism:

Although buying coffee is an economic exchange, Zizek’s model of people forgetting that they are not actually addressing the problems of others cements itself within McGonigal’s example.  On one hand, she gives encouragement to a student in India and believes her advice is making a difference. While on the other hand, McGonigal goes back to her reality (among assumingly upper middle class Americans) as the student goes back to her reality (among the poverty stricken Indians).  McGonigal’s interaction mimics the same type of emotional reward seen with Zizek.  Both examples have the allure of people assuming that their actions are fixing the issues of the world. What McGonigal invests is less of a positive “fix” to an issue, but more of a brief relief to a continuously developing problem.   If McGonigal wants readers to actually have constructive impacts on another person’s life, she should point them to the work of Kiva, a lending service to people in need.  For McGonigal to look in Kiva’s direction, Kiva would just have to make its work and lives of people in need look like characters going through simulated situations, instead of real people living in real poverty.


[1] According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 870 million people are living in a state of malnourishment from 2010-2012.  If 7000 meals-a-day are given to 870 million people, these meals can only feed .0008% of that population (with only one person per meal).  Although these 7000 meals are helping some hungry people, it is not fixing the world’s problems with starvation.

Side note: as a person who donates through Kiva, I know that I am not fixing the problems of reality, but I am making a positive change for someone.

Kiva Account

Kiva Account

This type of interaction, although not a game, is bound within knowing the limits of reality.  Although FreeRice and Kiva can be seen as aiding to another person’s struggle with reality, what differs is use: McGonigal presents her example of FreeRice as a fix while I treat my example as a positive change.  In other words, I see the limits of my contribution while McGonigal overlooks hers.   Treating yourself and others as players in a game alienates you from your contributions and their struggles in reality.  McGonigal’s writing produces an amount of lack that makes thinkers like Adorno just as relevant now as they were 80 years ago.  She does not go beyond her own analysis of ideals and take in the genealogy of issues of social disparity and culture of the gaming industry.

D&D 3.5 Books

My D&D 3.5 Books

As a gamer, I am limited to what I can do and what the world offers me to do.  To incite positive social progress, people must be placed into an environment that goes beyond comfort and allows them to see the pleasure and despair of reality. Not a water-down simulated  version.

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