Off and on over the past year, I’ve been reading Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. I’ve actually really enjoyed reading this book. Even though it’s a book that I’m not reading for class, I feel as though I should be taking notes on it. Perhaps that’s just a habit.
I think what I really enjoy about this book though is that it talks about games in a much broader context than I expected. More specifically, it talks about games and emotional health and psychology. I really just find all of what she’s researched fascinating. The idea of flow, the idea of happiness, what it is, where it comes from, how we attempt to find it– it’s all just really interesting to me. She has all of this research of what is happiness, how we can find it, how we make it for ourselves. It’s really just fascinating. And it also confirms what my mother always told me: “You make your own happiness.” See what she has to say.
Many different competing theories of happiness have emerged from the field of positive psychology, but if there’s one thing virtually all positive psychologists agree on, it’s this: there are many ways to be happy, but we cannot find happiness. No object, no event, no outcome or life circumstance can deliver real happiness to us. We have to make our own happiness — by working hard at activities that provide their own reward.
She then lists four “secrets” to happiness: satisfying work, the experience or hope of being successful, social connection, and meaning. She goes on to explain that all four of these things are found while playing a game. You feel satisfied after you complete a mission in a game; a game is capable of being beat so there is at least a chance you can accomplish it; you can connect with people through games either playing with them in person, through the internet, or even by talking about games at a later time; and finally games give us some kind of meaning. We learn things about our environment by playing games.
My other favorite part of the book was the discussion on the idea of flow. The father of “the science of happiness” is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who termed a specific kind of happiness as flow: “the satisfying, exhilarating feeling of creative accomplishment and heightened functioning.” There’s a lack of flow in daily life but an abundance of it in games– not just video games, but also games like basketball, tennis or other physical activities like dance or rockclimbing.
The solution [to every day boredom] seemed obvious to Csikszentmihalyi: create more happiness by structuring real work like game work. Games teach us how to create opportunities for freely chosen, challenging work that keeps us at the limits of our abilities, and those lessons can be transfered to real life. Our most pressing problems– depression, helplessness, social alienation, and the sense that nothing we do truly matters– could be effectively addressed by integrating more gameful work into our everyday lives.
The study of positive psychology in conjunction with games is really interesting to me, and so that was really fun to read about in McGonigal’s book. If it interests you at all, I suggest you pick up a copy and learn something about happiness and games.