Category Archives: McGonigal

videogames, the humanities and judgment

As we move toward the end of course, it is time for some summative thoughts. I suppose one of my real dislikes about English and the humanities in general is our tendency to make summary judgments about issues. It is an odd contradiction of sorts. On the one hand, we are more than willingly, perhaps even obligated by our discipline, to recognize the uncertainty of interpretation; we will say that a poem or novel or film or painting could mean different things to different people (within reason of course). In part, this keeps us in business. Otherwise the meaning of artistic works could be settled once and for all! On the other hand, we are equally willing to pass judgments that we hold to be as certain as we deem our interpretations to be uncertain. We are quick to say this or that is good or bad, art or not art, racist or sexist, or something.

It is safe to say that videogames produce aesthetic experiences in humans (setting aside any judgment on the quality of those experiences) and that they circulate sociopolitical/cultural/ideological values (setting aside any judgment on those values).We may say the same of any artistic work, indeed any object that humans participated in making. These are the objects we tend to study across the humanities. In this respect they are as worthy of study as object.

However, there’s another glitch. Our traditional methods don’t allow us to study everything. Conventionally we have decided to study those things that we think are the “best” (another judgment): Shakespeare, for example. 40 years ago, we decided that what we had thought of as best was culturally biased (i.e. dead white guys), so we diversified our selection. But we didn’t get rid of the idea that we should study what was best; we just tried to shift our notion of what “best” meant. Alongside this move, we also started to pay more attention to pop culture (i.e. what wasn’t “best”) and the historical contexts of our objects (which also meant studying material that wasn’t “best” but could inform our understanding of the best objects).

I suppose that studying videogames could fit alongside pop cultural studies of popular movies, television, genre fiction, and so on. But I don’t see that as the context in a class on new media. Instead, our more general purpose is to investigate the cultural operation of emerging communications technologies: videogames just happens to be the example. Clearly we make judgments about videogames from video game reviews to studies on their psychological effects. But as a scholar I’m not interested in making those judgments myself; I am interested in understanding how those judgments are made. That is, I am interested in the mechanisms.

How do videogames produce aesthetic experiences? When we look at McGonigal or Galloway we get some answers to that question. We can consider human psychology or we might look at game mechanics, at gamic action as Galloway terms it. How do videogames circulate social values? Bogost offers us a plethora of different ways this happens. Nardi goes in depth into a single game to explore its social function.

So I ask you: what can we learn from studying videogames as humanists? How might emerging media shift our understanding of the purposes and methods of the humanities (purposes and methods invented and designed to operate in a print culture)?

Reality is Overreated

Even though I picked up the book later than I would of liked to, and I was short on time to finish it. I found reading “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal to be very enjoyable. Not that I don’t enjoy reading, but I really was invested in what she was speaking about. My mom always mocked video games, saying they “rot your brain”. But to me, video games are no different then your average TV show or Book. Where you’re limited in the experience you can have when watching a show or reading a book, a video game can present infinite experiences. In my opinion one can take more form a tastefully ‘epic’ video game then any TV show. Chapter 6 in Jane’s book really backed up my thoughts on this, and it was nice to see another person with the same view on video games.

In that chapter Jane speaks of my ALL-TIME FAVORITE VIDEO GAME SERIES HALO. She speaks of the ‘epicness’ of the world of Halo, particularly the score created by Martin O’Donell. Touching on the sheer amount of man hours from hundreds of people to create and improve this virtual world, Jane sparked a realization in my mind. On page 109 Jane states that Halo users have created over 21 million posts, discussing and documenting anything Halo. Now do you think that the vast majority of these millions of people would EVER interact if it wasn’t for the shared interest of Halo? Probably not, and that is why I think video games are so amazing!

There is no way you can put Video Games in the same category as a book or movie. Games are greater, they are more complex. When a world is as vast and celebrated as Halo, to the point of individuals from different cultures joining together and sharing experiences they would not have otherwise, you leave the realm of game and enter that of community. To me that is the greatest reason “why games make us better and how they HAVE CHANGED the world”

Devin Chavanne 


Ten thousand hours – Collaboration

According to Jane McGonigal, a virtuoso of gaming is defined by a gamer that has completed ten thousand hours of gaming. This number, although daunting at first, is relatively realistic for many people in the current generation. Within the gaming community, there exists a group, myself included, that believe that a game not complete until one, achieves a perfect completion rate and collects all the trophies/achievements. These completionists, are the ones that spend hours collecting flags, feathers, and other side quests in the Assassin’s Creed missions. The completionist culture thrives within single player games, however when they encounter MMO’s the achievable fiero slowly fades away. MMO’s have a large base amount of players and a larger range of difficult goals. Since the completionist cannot achieve these goals themselves, they often collaborate with other like-minded individuals. The collaboration between players can best be seen in Mojang’s Minecraft.

Minecraft, a block based building game is often compared to being similar to Lego building sets. The creative nature of Minecraft, coupled with dedicated completionists, has produced numerous amounts scale models and cities. FyreUK, one of the many hardcore building teams in Minecraft, has produced over 100 timelapse videos of their stunning builds. This build team and the community behind it, has created a small infrastructure, with an intensive application process, as well as a hierarchy to manage their many creations. Through a game, a small community was able to thrive and produce stunning works of art and architecture. The FyreUK group is a proof of concept for Jane Mcgonigal’s “Fix 13” where a disorganized group can restructure itself within a game and achieve like-minded goals.

The Minecraft phenomenon, is not only limited to works of a creative nature. Utilizing Mojang’s Minecraft, UN-Habitat founded Block by Block, an organization that assists in city planning. With FyreUK’s assistance, they are able to create a 1:1 scale of many real world cities into the digital world of Minecraft. The recreations assist young city planners by giving them the tools in which they can manipulate public spaces and plan future growth. Block by Block, also gives young gamers in impoverished nations the ability to play with their homes, creating a space where collaboration can occur.

This Minecraft/Reality crossover is a perfect example of the world McGonigal is trying to achieve. These complex and creative build gives players a collaborative space as well as a directional goal in architectural planning. Through the goals, a sense of perfection can be gleaned and carried out into reality.

American Society and Video Games

Unfortunately I haven’T  been able to obtain my copy of the book, but when signing up for this class, a lot of thoughts crossed my mind.  I have always been interested in the thought of the strong affect that video games has on our society.  In the early 80s and 90s, video games were innocent.   No one ever thought Sonic the Hedgehog or Tetris to harm a child’s state of mind.  Nowadays, video games come with parental labels and discretions.  Times have drastically changed aned so has everything else in it.  The two points that I would like to discuss are obesity and violence affecting society.

I cannot even recall how many times I have heard people place blame on video games because of childhood obesity.   Technology has advanced and a lot of children do not play in the park like they use to.  This still should not be one of the main reasons on why childhood obesity has become such an epidemic in our country.   Children can only do so much.  It is up to our parents and educators to encourage children to do outdoor activities rather than staying inside and staring at a television.  How will children ever get to enjoy their childhood if they do not know what is in store for them?

On the issue of violence in our society, I seem to never come to a complete stance about the issue.   For instance,  the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999.  Blame has been placed on violent video games.  It has been said that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold committed the crimes for various reasons but also was inflenced by violent video games.

What are your views on the correlation of video games,  obesity and violence?

Focusing Your Fiero

Jane McGonigal brings up some interesting points about how games can affect the real world. No, she isn’t talking about the argument shooter video games causes players to become real world shooters. She’s talking about the positives that can come from games, and how games like, “World Without Oil” can even help solve these reality crises.

I could be described as a pretty “hardcore gamer.” I play a lot of games in many different genres. One type of game that I am particularly drawn to is the challenging game. Games of this nature that come to mind include: Super Meatboy, The Binding of Isaac, and Dark Souls. I played all of those games for many hours, and when I finally did achieve my victory, I felt what McGonigal refers to as fiero. Fiero is the feeling of triumph and accomplishment that comes from games. I’m sure if anyone has ever played the mobile game, “Candy Crush,” they have felt fiero. Because of my experiences with fiero, and my lust for challenging games, I was very intrigued by what she had to say about these projects to create games that help solve real-world problems. One specific game that struck me was a game intended to help in the creation of medicines and cures (she mentions cures for cancer), in which the player would find different ways to fold proteins in each level. The studies behind this game revealed that the players were better at folding proteins than even the doctors and scientists who received training in such things. The most interesting part I’ve noted is that I see puzzle games on mobile devices all the time. What’s stopping someone from creating one that helps others? This got me to asking if games really can be used for the betterment of mankind. If game designers can team up with scientists to create games in which players’ achievements build real world achievements by focusing a gamer’s fiero, then the world may be in for a whole new era of success.

I found this great video of McGonigal talking about her book where she answers some questions about it and shares some more information, (including some specific numbers on the topics I’ve discussed here). If you like her stuff I’d for sure recommend checking it out!

Epic Idea is Epic

My thoughts, aka aric001’s thoughts, were mixed regarding McGonigal’s ideas in Reality is Broken. Coming in, I knew I was a gamer, but even I was very skeptical when she proposed that they could change the entire world by making things more gamelike. Honestly, reading that, all I could think of was this sort of thing:

First and foremost, I have to be honest and say that flying through the book at the ol’ 6-week-summer-class-pace was a lot to take in.

I’m a slow reader.

Fix number six, however, stood out for me: Epic scale.

The idea behind this is that “reality is trivial” when “compared with games,” and “Games make us a part of something bigger” (Reality is Broken, McGonigal, 98).

In my comments that I’ve made so far, I think I’ve backed this point up. McGonigal’s prime example is Halo 3, which I have played and can agree is indeed quite epic. Ninja Gaiden II, another game I played, was also quite epic. (One of the biggest and lattermost fights in the game is this one here:

Note, may be a bit bloody. Also note, this is only on medium/ Path of the Warrior. If you want, you can also find videos on Youtube of people brought to tears after losing on easy, and insane people like me who actually beat the whole thing on “Master Ninja.”) Mass Effect, in my mind, epitomizes “epic.”

All of these games and the experiences they provide call forth the main emotion that one commonly associates with anything epic, and that’s awe. Awe has come to many people in various other ways, too. Religions in general— McGonigal mentions medieval cathedrals— , many people who normally hate each other coming together as a massive, united body (post 9-11 America… people often talk about how amazed they were to see everybody suddenly stop fighting,) and seeing sights like Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon are just a few examples of awe inspiring epicness. The most significant example may be the second one I mentioned, which McGonigal explains as “a collective context for action,” in other words, a story shared and felt by many players who all experience a story together, a story that becomes enriched by players jumping in and helping others, performing what McGonigal calls a “service,” mentioning that “every effort by one player must equally benefit all the other players” (101).

There is a sort of vague overlay onto the real world that can be made here. McGonigal mentions that soundtracks, which are sometimes real instrumentalists, sometimes not, are very significant, as they are in many movies. I found this good to hear because I intend to go to grad school for Musical Composition in Movies/Games… so, yeah. I have a career I can hopefully look forward to in the arts, which is always cool. But the musicians creating that music, the sweeping piano riff that chills your spine, or that horn fanfare that, when you hear it, forces you to stick your chin up towards the sky and puff out your chest with… shall we call that fiero?

But hey, collective work toward the good of all is something that I think society is generally hoping to achieve. As such, McGonigal suggests we strive for “Epic Wins” in chapter 12. Originally, I was pondering how exactly we could go about just trying to make life “epic.” That game mentioned, The Extraordinaires, was a really neat idea. Take a picture of a defibrillator, help save lives. Not bad at all. It appears that in order to be epic in real life, we need to try to get a lot of people to do small contributions toward bigger, seemingly impossible goals, in order to help make them possible.

Interesting project to engage in. I think it’s rather general right now, but used in the right ways I imagine this could make a huge difference in the world and benefit the lives of many.

Games to Fix Reality

McGonigal talks a lot about the future potential of video games, and the impact they can make in improving our reality. It’s a really ambitious idea, and I can see where shes going with this, but I don’t necessarily see this taking hold relatively soon. Right now where video games stand is a perfect spot, and I would just like to see them be improved with better engines. The game market has many options now and it isn’t just about the big AAA titles, indie games are pretty popular on PC and Xbox Live Arcade, and App games as well. I don’t want to mix my reality with video games, they should stay separate from each other. The book is obviously titled Reality is Broken, but I really don’t think it is. Reality has been pretty much the same since always when corresponding to the correct generation. What was normal for a dude in 1800 wouldn’t be normal now, but in retrospect the basic human needs and perception of reality were probably similar. The difference is that our current generation just has more options with technology, more ways to distract ourselves and lose touch with reality when we feel like it. Reality can be a bitch sometimes, with school, work, relationship issues, bills and whatever else, but that’s just life. Reality can be rewarding just as it is cruel, It’s already enough of a game. For example I don’t feel like we need to turn any household chores into an RPG, that seems to just be exacerbating the issue, why make more work out of something that you can just get over with, and then when your done play a real RPG on your Xbox..  Games are fine the way they are, their purpose is to NOT be like real life. I’m cool with them having similar mechanics, like In DayZ or Fallout where you need to eat/drink/sleep to stay alive, but other than that I want them to be a video game. I’d hate to see games start turning into only ARGs or ways of enhancing social interactions, I like where the social interaction stands now, ever played Call of Duty? Everyone is just an asshole, and it’s a lot of fun after a day of work, where you can’t tea bag your boss. As for ARGs I think they make great marketing campaigns leading up to a movie or a video game, but shouldn’t be the game itself.