Reality is Broken (is broken)

I’m reading Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal as part of a VSTE book study.

I do not like it. I find myself vacillating between anger and nausea (despite liking isolated elements). I started to break down this book point by point but found it tedious and repetitive to do so.

Essentially, the author’s point is that reality is broken because it isn’t like games- which by the way are super awesome (always). There are huge, vast, amazingly arrogant assumptions made about games and their applicability to all people in all contexts but that’s par for the course for this type of book. The statement that I couldn’t pass on was –

reality is too easy – location 400

Really? Maybe McGonigal is observing other people. Most people I know seem to have their hands full with reality. There’s an entire blog dedicated to people who publicly document that they can’t tell the difference between an Onion satire and reality.1

Even if we assume that reality is too easy for our populace2, the author spends most of the book arguing against the very things that make reality hard.

The exact nature of this “satisfying work” is different from person to person, but for everyone it means being immersed in clearly defined, demanding activities that allow us to see the direct impact of our efforts.

Life is often difficult because real activities are ill defined and it may take years to see the impact of your actions.

Blissful productivity is the sense of being deeply immersed in work that produces immediate and obvious results. The clearer the results, and the faster we achieve them, the more blissfully productive we feel.

I’m not sure this is true but it sounds like it’s making life a lot easier to me. Most of the pieces from staying at the edge of your ability level, to choosing what work you do, are all about making life easier.

It doesn’t really matter. I agree with the concept this book should have stressed- that we can apply many of the principles of game design in a variety of ways to make other things better and more pleasant. Like most edtech presenters, it seems that the author’s goal was to create statements that people would tweet rather than aiming for rationale, accurate things to say. The extended soundbite as novel is an unfortunate byproduct of our times. This could have been an interesting book.

A few random things from when I thought this book would be worth arguing about —————-

The book starts with a quote from Edward Castronova.

“If it3 happens in a generation, I think the twenty-first century will see a social cataclysm larger than that caused by cars, radios, and TV, combined…. The exodus of these people from the real world, from our normal daily life, will create a change in social climate that makes global warming look like a tempest in a teacup.”

First, I’d argue that cars, radios, and TVs did not cause a “social cataclysm.”

If we ignore that, maybe we could see this as a fresh cataclysm if it was a movement from work hours to games/virtual worlds but it isn’t. It isn’t an exodus from “normal daily life” but rather a possible change in diversions. McGonigal later references that gamers watch less hours of TV- seeming to back up the concept that this is a shift of leisure time rather than a radical reordering of work/gaming balance.

This is one of those things that’s fun to say but doesn’t hold water. It wouldn’t make me as angry if it weren’t so prevalent in popular “research” books right now and horrifically evident in most anything to do with educational technology. It makes for a pithy twitter-able quote but that’s about it.

It’s a bit counterintuitive to think about the future in terms of the past. But as research director at the Institute for the Future … I’ve learned an important trick:to develop foresight, you need to practice hindsight.

Yep. Never heard of anyone who studies the past in an attempt to figure out what’ll go on in the future. GENIUS!!! Make that person research director for the Institute for the Future. Also, you should make some sort of saying about an original thought like that so people can quote you. Something like . . .

Study the past, if you would divine the future. – Confucious

Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too. – Marcus Aurelius

The best prophet of the future is the past. – George Byron

Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. – Everyone

“There is zero unemployment in World of Warcraft.”

There is also zero unemployment in Disney Land. What a stupid, stupid thing to bother writing.

Oh and the one footnote I looked at gives no support to the statement it references.

Even professional drummers have remarked that it serves as a reasonable approximation of real rock drumming.

Links footnote 14 to this article about a guy who made his real drum kit into a controller for Rock Band. Nothing in there about approximating “real rock drumming”. Nothing even close to that statement.

1 Then when told it’s satire, either don’t know what that means (and make no effort to find out) or worse simply think “well, it should be true” and add it to the mental armor against reality.

2 We have, after all, already solved all those problems around pollution, energy, famine, war, suicide, addiction, cancer, obesity, homelessness, space travel etc.

3 Lots of people playing online games and getting involved in virtual worlds.

4 thoughts on “Reality is Broken (is broken)

  1. Decided to subscribe to your posts. Arrived here after visiting your comment on GCPS site.

  2. You should read James Paul Gee’s “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning & Literacy”. I think it might offer a great counterpoint to McGonigal’s work.

    1. Yeah, I wanted to participate in your book study especially after being so unhappy with this book. I will likely get around to it sooner or later. My choices for books are currently restricted by whatever my library has available electronically. That’s a bit of a pain now but I haven’t taken the time to set up a generic ebook account for our district. It’s on the list.

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