I have a few games on my iPod Touch. After purchasing them, and trying each for a half hour or so, I've hardly ever played them. I've tended toward the view that game playing is a frivolous waste of time. With things like the singularity, or some other exponential growth induced change, rushing down the information superhighway straight at us, who has time for games?

In Reality is Broken Jane McGonigal argues that we ignore those games on our collective iPods at our own great risk. I've come to agree with her.

Henry David Thoreau wrote "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” It is an interesting aside -at least to me- that before I checked I attributed this aphorism to James Thurber, perhaps because of his story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and that he once puckishly modified Thoreau's saying to be "Nowadays most men lead lives of noisy desperation."

Anyway, I didn't understand Thoreau's quote when I was younger, or perhaps more accurately, I hoped -as we all do- that I would end up in the minority instead of the majority. However, in our winner-take-all society, the minority has been shrinking in number and becoming harder to join while at the same time it has become increasingly bloated with excess resources.

For most of us, reality is broken; not all of it, of course, but large parts of it, and those parts are getting bigger and harder to avoid. Thurber's character Walter Mitty dealt with his broken reality by having an elaborate fantasy life. McGonigal's great insight about games is that they not only help us deal with our own broken realities, but do so in a way that empowers us to come back to the real world and start fixing that which is broken.

In the next few posts I'll review McGonigal's arguments about how games are able to perform this somewhat miraculous feat.

4 responses
I was intrigued by the connection you drew between McGonigal's game theory and the eduMOOC format. I've run a number of role-playing online games to supplement traditional pedagogy in multicultural literature and history classes to great success, but these were small (<30>m curious-- what type of game experience do you think is feasible for a group as large and diverse as an MOOC? How would it be orchestrated/assessed? What objectives or rewards would you put into play?
Great questions. Wish I had answers.

Perhaps McGonigal provides a clue. She quotes Bernard Suits as having the most convincing and useful definition of a game ever devised.

"Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles."

So we would need to devise some unnecessary obstacles and get everyone to voluntary try to overcome them.

Hmmm? Help?

When I first read "Reality is Broken" I acutually recast the title in my mind as "School is Broken". Most students must live lives of quiet desperation in our schools. The paradigm is numbing. Most kids are not good at it. Very few kids are learning what they want to know about. The feedback loops are abysimal and there is little so little flow created created for most kids that they just watch the clock for 330.

As for the MOOC i gues the question is how do we create flow in the MOOC. We need to figure out just what gives us flow in the MOOC.

I agree that many aspects of school are broken; at least for a great number of kids, and I think it is going to get worse before getting better. NCLB and RTT are based on models that are known to be fraudulent. There was no Texas miracle (under JW Bush) and there was no Florida miracle (under Jeb Bush). This seems to be totally ignored by the "reformers." I guess if you are going to have an economy in which the vast majority are supposed to do what they are told and not ask questions then you find a way to modify your schools to develop that product.

Right now I'm very much enjoying the MOOC. Just enough structure, and a sense of a community that is paying attention and interested in learning together. I have the feeling that if I'm able to say something interesting it will be heard. Hope I can keep pushing myself to make the most of the experience.