The World Outside McGonigal’s Reality is Broken

While looking at the entirety of Jane McGonigal’s Reality Is Broken, readers may come away from this text with two different interpretations.  At certain moments in McGonigal’s text, there comes a time when readers can agree with her and see that the world does have issues worth addressing: poverty, loneliness, hungry, neglect, apathy, etc.  These issues, although trivial to some readers, are current problems that many global citizens face.  From a point in 2014, readers may be more increasingly aware of these issues.  For McGonigal to take a different approach (inciting the power of the gaming community) is somewhat commendable. But, when McGonigal presents readers not only with the problems of the world, but also solutions (or “fixes”) to these problems, readers must go beyond her logic and question her foundations and, more importantly, her logical failures.  At this moment, a time when readers question McGonigal’s logic, a second interpretation comes to light: McGonigal’s inability to actually challenge readers with reasonable positive solutions.

McGonigal’s criticism has been addressed since Reality is Broken’s publication.  This criticism points at the logic of her claims.   William Saletan addresses how:

If reality is inherently less attractive than games, then the virtual world won’t save the physical world. It will empty it. Millions of gamers, in McGonigal’s words, are ‘opting out’ of the bummer of real life. And they aren’t coming back. Halo 3, for example, has become a complete virtual world, with its own history documented in an online museum and Ken Burns-style videos. McGonigal calls this war game a model for inspiring mass cooperation. Two years ago, its 15 million players reached a long-sought objective: They killed their 10 billionth alien. ‘Fresh off one collective achievement, Halo players were ready to tackle an even more monumental goal,’ McGonigal writes. And what goal did they choose? Feeding the hungry? Clothing the poor? No. The new goal was to kill 100 billion aliens.

Saletan suggests that gamers, or at least a mass of gamers, are not too concerned with reaching a social goal.  When playing games, they see mainly the short-term goal to a short-term problem: reaching the next achievement.  Although McGonigal sees this group of people as potential concerned citizens, she cannot separate her own views as a gamer from other gamers.  This logical flaw follows her through her book.

McGonigal inserts her own feelings and beliefs in the place of facts.  Andrew Klavan suggests that McGonigal’s major flaw is her thinking:

While she acknowledges that Halo is ‘only a game,’ she goes on to write, rather remarkably: ‘Just because the kills don’t have value doesn’t mean they don’t have meaning. Meaning is the feeling that we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s the belief that our actions matter beyond our own individual lives.’ But no, actually, that’s not what meaning is at all. Meaning is when those feelings and beliefs refer to something that is true. This error consistently undermines Ms. McGonigal’s thinking.

Klavan addresses how McGonigal’s readings of games are erroneous and, in fact, her interpretations are more suited for an interpretation of art, opposed to an interpretation of reality mimicking games.  McGonigal’s goal (contributing to the betterment of reality) is not an issue, but her approach is.

On the whole of the Saletan’s and Klavan’s grievances with McGonigal’s work, they do not attack her overriding mission, but how she addresses the world’s problems as games.  If McGonigal means to be bold, to address real people living with reality’s real disadvantages, she would do something more than entertain readers with clever games.   For example, in the game Evoke, gamers have a mission where they must decrease the amount of electricity they consume (336).  McGonigal says that gamers can look to Africa and gain an “African ingenuity” as inspiration (337).  Although “African ingenuity” shows gamers how Africans use minimal resources well, it is insulting.  Their poverty is reduced to “ingenuity”.  These types of logical issues have McGonigal take two steps forward and four steps back throughout the entire book.

While she proves that she has good intentions, she is not ready to handle the logical issues of her work. Edward Champion, editor for Reluctant Habits, challenges the whole of Reality is Broken with “Jane McGonigal’s Mind is Broken”.  Although he prose is rude, he is concise and addresses many of the issues in McGonigal’s book.  When his essay went viral, McGonigal replied:

Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 7.04.18 PM

As of 2014, McGonigal has not taken him up on his debate. Which raises a new question: if McGonigal is not willing to defend herself, her work, and her ideas in the public, how can this public take her work seriously?  Until this question is answered, McGonigal is right to a certain degree: reality is broken when someone ignores addressing its problems.


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