Five Giveaways from Jane McGonigal’s Opening Keynote

For today’s installment, I will be mocking this article summarizing the ISTE keynote speech I could not stomach attending. Think of it as meta-mockery of a summarization.

This kind of thing irritates me more and more because it wastes time and energy. People wander off chasing garbage statements (with good intentions) but the keynoters spouting this nonsense make no attempt to connect the dots. It’s all frosting, and a thin layer of sickly sweet frosting at that. I also hold ISTE to blame for furthering nonsense. They ought to know better.

1. There Are Now 1 Billion Gamers Worldwide

According to McGonigal, this “critical milestone,” recently reached, encompasses everyone who spends at least one hour a day playing a game on a connected device — be it a gaming console, a smartphone, a tablet or a computer. “When you add it all up,” she said, “that’s seven billion-plus hours a week spent in maximum engagement through games.”


1. There are over 2 million people imprisoned in the United States alone.
1

That’s over 7 people in prison out of every 1,000. “When I add it all up,” I said, “that’s 19 billion-plus hours a year spent in maximum incarceration thanks to prisons. That’s got to be a critical milestone or at least a large number which will impress Twitter lemmings.”

2. The Longer Students Stay in School, the Less Engaged They Become

McGonigal explained to attendees that 76 percent of elementary school students are engaged in learning. That number drops to 61 percent for middle schools and just 44 percent for high school students.

2. The Longer Students Play Games, the Less Engaged They Become

I explained to attendees that people get bored with games. Wikipedia led me to discover that it costs from $10-40 million dollars to produce the single game that you beat in two weeks and never played again.2

3. In Gaming, There’s Not Much of a Gender Gap

In the United States, 99 percent of boys under the age of 18 play video games regularly, spending about 13 hours a week engaged in such activity. By comparison, 94 percent of all girls in that same age group spend about eight hours a week playing games. Remarkably, she added, 92 percent of 2-year-olds are already playing video games.

3. In Gaming, There’s Not Much of a Admitted Gender Gap

Were it not for McGonagal’s unimpeachable veracity, I might think I read things about differences between male/female gaming activities.

Even if that’s not the case, I could claim virtually the same numbers for fast food consumption.3 I have seen many 2-year-olds at McDonald’s. I don’t know why it matters.

4. Gamers Seek 10 Positive Emotions from Gaming Experiences

“The desire to feel creative drives a lot of game play,” McGonigal said, “but gamers also want to feel — in this order — contentment, awe and wonder, excitement, curiosity, pride, surprise, love, relief and joy.”

4. People Seek Positive Emotions

Nothing makes you feel “creative” like a rousing game of Mario Cart or Wii Tennis.

It turns out people don’t often pay to be miserable.4

5. McGonigal Considers Gamers “Super-Empowered Hopeful Individuals”

As she told attendees, “If you can experience three positive emotions for every one negative emotion, you dramatically improve your odds of success in every area of your life.”

5. I consider McGonigal full of hot air.

Since McGonigal already told me that everyone plays games, then “gamers” are our current population which I would not describe as “super-empowered hopeful individuals.”

So, how do educators connect the 1 billion gamers in the world with learning? McGonigal told attendees they can do it by “empowering students to make contributions to the world now, while they’re still in school.”

Because nothing contributes to the world like killing someone in Assasin’s Creed, cooperatively killing someone else in Destiny, brutally killing someone in Ryse: Son of Rome or killing someone while in a 24 ft robot in Titanfall.5

The sad thing is that I can see opportunities in incorporating elements of gaming in education but we seem to be unable to make the right connections with the right people at scale. We could talk to game designers and real live teachers who actually work with children in schools. I don’t know that they’d have answers but they’ve at least tried to tackle these problems under the constraints of our current educational environment. I understand why the tweetable, easy answer keynoters get paid. People leave feeling good with some simple “answers” in hand. People are able to quote some things that reflect what they already believe. Toss in some stats and some laughs. It’s an easy recipe. Fluff like this isn’t the cause of our educational woes but it sure doesn’t help.

Reality is not broken. It is simply unpopular.


1 BBC- Yep, worse than Mother Russia.

2 This does increase the likelihood of producing action adventure MOOCs for profit in the near future. Grand Theft Auto may be your next economics instructor.

3 Internet usage, videos, etc. etc.

4 Unless the ad agency is very, very good. McDonald’s and Disneyland being key examples.

5 All top games from E3 2013.

Comments on this post

  1. Alan Levine (@cogdog) said on June 30, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    More footnotes please 😉

    Almost same talk she gave at SXSW edu in 2012, and later when I was at Penn State TLTSynposium.

    Talk about a bag of ____________

    • Tom Woodward said on July 1, 2013 at 8:37 am

      Keynoters are keynoters. We certainly reward this kind of stuff/fluff. The footnotes are clearly a compulsion. You will note a near record for posts this month. I’m starting a blogging revival in your honor.

  2. Tim Stahmer said on July 2, 2013 at 5:10 am

    Well, there goes my snarky critique of McGonigal’s keynote. 🙂 Good post, Tom.

    For me the strangest part of her talk was the claim that people felt creative when playing games. Software designed to get you to push the right buttons in the right order in order to receive your reward, and which punish you for getting it wrong, often with virtual death (or loss of eggs). I just can’t see an association to creativity. Or most of the other emotions she attributes to game play.

    Certainly there are gaming elements we can and do use in education (elementary teachers have been using badges – in the form of stickers – forever), but to declare that gaming is the only future for school, which is very much implied in her talk and writing, is silly at best.

    And I also blame ISTE for fostering the silliness.

  3. Emmalia said on July 21, 2013 at 2:40 am

    While I agree that the speech was bordering on ridiculus, I quite enjoyed it. Key note speakers can set the mood for the whole conference, their aim often is to start the opening for the conference with a bang, please the sponsors and bring attention to their work. I think the speaker did this well. Stats, research, studies etc are always a tool that can be used to twist facts to support your argument. Creating controversy, making the audience think is the aim of the game. The ambiguity of quoted stats ie without context and the lack of parameters, controlled variables etc serves to keep the controversy afloat, and the speaker the centre of attention. To verify her statiscal claims, and seemingly silly argument, I’m tempted to read more about her and the sources/ details of her stats. I think she’s done a great job as the keynote speaker 🙂

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