What are gamers getting good at?

February 7, 2011 | By | 12 Replies More

Game designer Jane McGonigal points out the immense numbers of hours gamers are spending getting good at what they do. World of Warcraft players typically spent 22 hours per week playing that game. What are they getting good at, based upon all of that investment? At what are they becoming virtuosos? McGonigal offers four answers.

a. Urgent optimism;
b. Weaving a tight social fabric;
c. Blissful Productivity
d. Epic meaning.

Gamers, per McGonigal, are “Super-Empowered Hopeful Individuals.”  They are convinced that they are excellent at changing the world, and they are good at getting things done, but it is only in their cyber-worlds. They are gaming to escape the dysfunctional real world. What’s McGonigal’s solution?

To make the real world more like a game-world–she argues that gamers are a valuable resource that we need to tap into. We are ready to start an “epic game” where we remake the future. Her games include the following invitations to change one’s world:

A) World without oil – learning to live in a world of Peak Oil.
B) Superstruct – Learning to survive global extinction.
C) Evoke – Learning to teach social innovation skills to aid stressed societies.


Category: Entertainment, Quality of Life

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (12)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Brynn Jacobs says:


    Quite an interesting idea, thanks for posting this. I think there is a counterpoint to McGonigal, brought out in the comments below the TED video. One person pointed out that:

    She's absolutely wrong. I'm an avid gamer (been playing for the last 25 years) and I have to say that the online gaming community has the most notional, belligerent, impulsive, and selfish people I've ever seen. Anybody who has spent ANY time playing games online can attest to this. The typical gamer will:

    – "Ragequit" the game at the first sign of his team losing and will roam from server to server to find an easy win

    – Strive for their own high score/goals (frustrating in team games) while ignoring teammatess or team objectives

    – Yell at, swear at and ridicule teammates for not performing well enough

    – Yell at, swear at and ridicule teammates for getting top score on the team, in which case they're accused of cheating, having no life, or exploiting a particularly powerful weapon

    – Forsake teams or team goals in order to "farm" something (kill/death ratio, experience points, gold)

    Other comments point out the highly addictive nature of modern games and point out that they tend to sever real-world relationships rather than serving as a tool to build new ones.

    I'm part of the generation molded by videogames, and until the last year or so played online games for an average of about 20 hours per week. The games that are the biggest right now are not the kind of games McGonigal's proposing, but I'm intrigued by the lessons learned from McGonigal's games, especially the World Without Oil. It must have seemed prophetic to the gamers involved– the game began in April 2007 and asked gamers to imagine an oil price spike, causing gasoline prices to rise over $4.00 per gallon. This imagined crisis became a reality for many as the price of oil in the real world went to $147 per barrel in 2008.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Brynn: I couldn't help but think that here was a woman whose job was to sell games indicating that games could save the world. I have the same image of a gamer being someone who is not interested in leaving the cozy confines of the cyber-world. I used to play video games, but I haven't done so for two decades, because I considered it a time drain with only immediate payback.

      On the other hand, I'm wondering whether crowd sourcing through gaming could help reach certain segments of society or explore certain issues that would make them come alive. How about a media consolidation game that lets the players see how it is when the telecoms start calling all the shots on the Internet? Maybe that would make them hop off their couches and join the real world.

  2. Ben says:

    Playing video games (including online chess and scrabble, driving games, shooters, puzzles, team, action, rpg, war simulation) has taught me how to win or lose in real life, while still maintaining my composure/sportsmanship. (This was not always the case, i've played hundreds of thousands of games and have lost my composure numerous times, its been a long learning process)

    see here:

    The computer games of today are quite different than the ones from the 80's, mainly in that they are more complex and demanding. I would venture to say that modern video games are as (physically and) mentally taxing as any real-world activity. Some of the most vivid moments in my memory have been with a video game controller in my hand, victories snatched from the jaws of defeat, teamwork companionship, you name it. Not something that I'm especially proud of or embarrassed, I guess it is just very easy (for me) to get enthralled. (One time in an 8 vs 8 fortress battle, I tallied 6 kills, a fond memory.)

    I've noticed that I can handle certain situations in real life more easily, driving in emergency situations, or needing to remember topographic terrain details when hiking (similar to terrain maps in 3d shooters). I wholly agree/assert that video games improve confidence and overall brainpower.

    Now we have guitar hero, it has lost it's luster but I feel like I've improved my guitar and drum skills (had no skill at all before playing).


  3. Jim Razinha says:

    Brynn, good quote from the commenter. I don't play the games, but my sons do in varying stages of complexity, from Eve, Dark Age of Camelot, who knows what else to Maple Story and the dialogue is vicious, lacking any tight social fabric, scheming, and productive not in the least (I'll check with my sons to see what they think of this.) I think Erich is right – she's selling games. Of course they're good! I don't see any of the four "qualities" in any of the MMORPGs, but then I've become a curmudgeon.

    Now, I happen to know of one real life application where gaming proved better than actual experience. The Navy has been outfitting test F-4's with remote control; the old Vietnam pilots couldn't "feel" the plane in the remote chair but the kids who grew up with Flight Simulator proved to be better at controlling the aircraft. I imagine they're the ones controlling the drones as well.

    It's a rare TED lecturer that I think it totally off base. She qualifies.

  4. Brynn Jacobs says:


    Yeah, I will say that the only time I've noticed any sort of the teamwork and sense of achievement is in playing actual competitive gaming, which is a brand-new industry. But that's due to the fact that you are on a team with unchanging members, so in that sense it's like any other team-based sport. And I haven't played any of the MMORPGs, so there may be some of that aspect as well. But overall, I have a hard time believing that much of the button-mashing and fast-twitch skills that are developed in modern video-games have much transferability to solving tangible problems around us.

  5. Ben says:

    If the brain really (really) thinks you are doing something, that is quite similar to the sensation of actually doing it, at least for me. In fact I "had to" cut down on the competitive shooters because it was more intense than I wanted in a "hobby". As with anything that is extremely challenging and stimulating to the senses, there was some withdrawal upon quitting.

    But as far as helping solve problems around us, yes the games certainly do help because they help us relax, increase brainpower therefore allowing us to more readily tackle these real life problems. Of course there must be a point of diminishing returns, and I must concede that playing 23 hours of Q-bert cannot solve world hunger.

    I challenge anyone here to a game of online competition in the game of your choice, and I will pay you 20 dollars (paypal) if you even *think* you can beat me in scrabble.

  6. Ben says:

    Those of you who are asserting that people who play war games are only mean and selfish need to consider that it may be the conditions *in* the game which elicit this type of behavior. What would you expect in a real war?

    Game theory can explain a LOT about real life.


  7. Ben says:

    "competitive gaming, which is a brand-new industry"

    See wikipedia for the long and rich history of competitive gaming since the US National Video Game Team was created in 1983.


  8. Brynn Jacobs says:


    My point was that the industry that has grown up around competitive gaming is new, not competitive video game playing itself, I should have been more clear. Only in the past decade or so has professional gaming come into its own as an industry or profit center.

  9. Jim Razinha says:

    Ben, if you have an iphone and Word With Friends, my wife's handle(?) is razmom4 – she rarely loses and is always up for a challenge (no money involved – she plays for fun). Note the Android network version can't see the iphone network.

    Brynn, my sons tried to get me interested in Eve – not a role playing game per se, but definitely multi-player – because of the socio-political component as well as the business element. One look at the myriad of icons on the screen, and I walked out of the room. But I hear stories about corporations, conglomerates, temporary alliances to take down bigger corporations and more. It is interesting, but only from an infrequent observer's perspective for me.

  10. Ben says:

    Jim, she is a very brave woman, be proud.

    Now I might finally just have to get an IPhone 🙂

    sidenote: my best (successful) investing strategy has been (instead of buying an iphone) to buy apple shares every time I feel myself longing for their products. (Every penny I have put into apple has multiplied)

  11. Jim Razinha says:


    She's the mother of four sons, an artist, and married to me – the brave part comes naturally.

    As does my pride.

Leave a Reply