games, Learning, Reflection

The Benefits of Games


Moving on with Jane McGonigal’s outline of the benefits of games in Reality is Broken. Kids have always loved games but as I write this it is estimated that about one million people are at it.  Why?

McGonigal notes that it is work we choose to do.  Play, as she says is hard work with high odds of success.  It’s exactly the opposite of depression. The plus side includes positive emotions, engagement and action.  There is a lovely video circulating of an austistic teen playing Pokemon Go who has moved away from an agoraphobic fear of going outside and enjoying being there.  The small creatures were the initial lure, but it has enriched his experience.


When I was out in a park last night being instructed instructed by my nine year old grandson, I was certainly not the only one playing around.  It was a nice change from a few years ago when everyone talked incessantly on their cell phones in public places. It’s fun.  It’s also easy to see that any game can become addictive and habitual – but those are human issues – not totally the fault of the game.

Games are a nice contrast to the real work that many of us are obliged to complete. They aren’t boring.  Much of the work that others assign – or even those we assign to ourselves don’t optimize our time or talent.  Much work is bereft of meaning if we are simply cogs in the wheel of a large enterprise where there is a disconnect between what we are asked to do and its ultimate result.

McGonigal predicted Pokemon Go’s ascendance when Reality is Broken was first published for the right reasons – though we might question it as hard work.  But I’m a newbie.  An older grandson observes that a friend has the whole collection already with one exception – but he has the missing one – will he trade or reveal this? The dilemma is keeping him busy,  Games like Minecraft involve the mental choices and creative thinking.  The whole world is action oriented and we are the actors.

McGonigal acknowledges that the idea of flow has been around for a long time and references on my favourite books, Flow, by  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – and also generously tells us that the surname is pronounced Cheek-sent-me-hi. We experience flow when we are doing something we love – running, painting, playing a musical instrument – when there is no sense of time and a wonderful feeling of euphoria,  The right match of game can do this for moments at least.

It’s not money or prestige that drives us to games.  It’s something much more intrinsic. We are immersed temporarily in an experience with differing degrees of pleasure or challenge. We aspire to succeed.  We don’t mind failing because we are usually learning in the process.  We have the sense of being part of something social.  I admire the word choices of my competitor in Words with Friends – even though sometimes I’m playing with a robot. The experience means something.  We have to delve into what the full benefits are and see whether there are possibilities of transferring some of them back to the real world.