Night mode

Reality is Broken

Reality is Broken

Reality is Broken

A book review by Ray Ivey. You remember books, don’t you? Well, this one’s related to gaming!


Written by on


Book Review:

Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal


The author just comes right out and says it:  Games are better than reality.  But this book isn’t an exhortation to drop out of real life:  it’s a recipe for remaking reality based on what we’ve learned from games.  We’re only five months into 2012 and I’ve already read two books this year that blew my mind.  The first one was Ready Player One.  This is the other one.

I’ve been a gamer for many years.  I’ve always felt luckier than my non-gamer friends, who I think seriously don’t know what they’re missing.  I feel gaming is far superior to passive pastimes like watching television.

Jane McGonigal is a game designer and researcher, and her amazing new book makes me prouder than ever to be a gamer.  In her beautifully written book, she describes why we love games, why games are better than reality, and how we can use games to make reality better.

The book is broken up into three parts.  In the first part, McGonigal explores just what it is about games that makes them such effective engines for happiness.  Reading this section was pure joy, because it made me feel like someone much smarter than me had reached into my head and then sat me down to patiently explain to me all the reasons I love my favorite pastime so much.  Every single thing she asserts – that games provide a better work/reward feedback loop, that games make failure fun and educational, that games can improve our social connections, and many more – rang utterly true.

As fun as that portion of the book was, it was all stuff that I already knew intuitively, even if I’d never managed to articulate it as well as the author did.

But my brain really started to go crazy with the second portion of the book, which deals with how games can begin to make our real lives better.  She educated me about the concept of alternate reality games, which are just as fun as they sound.

McGonigal describes two new games that help the unpleasant experience of commercial flight more bearable.  A game that helps facilitate physical therapy and recovery.  Schools using games as a way to create more effective education.  Games played in graveyards that make us happier even as we think about death.



But it’s the third part of the book that really blew my mind.  In it, McGonigal explores how really large games played by large groups of people can change the world.

Remember that notorious scandal involving the Members of Parliament in the UK abusing their expense accounts?  The newspaper The Guardian was covering the story and wanted a full accounting of all of the MP’s expenses, so it could investigate just how serious the corruption was. 

Under intense pressure, the government grudgingly agreed to release four years’ worth of records, but they made sure that they provided the data in the most unhelpful format possible:  558,832 separate pdf documents.  The Guardianknew it didn’t have the personpower to scan and evaluate all of those images.  So it decided to crowdsource the problem.  It invited the public to get involved.  It launched the first-ever Massively Multiplayer Investigative Journalism Project, which it called Investigate Your MP’s Expenses. 

Did it work?  It worked staggeringly well.  Just three days into the contest, 170,000 of the documents had been studied!!  When the project was over, the resulting scandal led to resignations, indictments, and changed rules and laws. 

Because The Guardian decided to make it into a game.

The book is rife with energizing examples of harnessing the power of online social networking and using games to make the world better. 

Many people think crowdsourcing could be a way that we could solve enormous, dangerous problems, like global warming, water shortages, or why George Takei doesn’t get better roles in major films.

I can’t remember another book that prompted me to join so many different websites!  I am eager to participate in these worthy and exciting projects. 

Reality is Broken isn’t billed as a self-help book, but I think it’s the best self-help book I’ve ever read.  I heartily recommend it to anyone who is interested in how play and technology can make our lives more happy and fun, and how we can use games together to make the world a better place.

Ray Ivey

Ray Ivey

A gaming freakazoid, Ray enjoys games on all platforms. Also loves board games, mind games, and all puzzles. Co-wrote the Entertainment Tonight trivia game and designed puzzles for two Law & Order PC games. Also a movie freak, bookworm, and travel bug. Thinks games of all kinds are a highly underappreciated force for social good, not to mention mental and psychological health.   Ray's favorite adventures include the "Broken Sword" and "Journeyman Project" franchises, "The Dark Eye," "The Feeble Files," "Sanitarium," "Limbo," "Machinarium," "Riven," "The Neverhood," and "Azrael's Tear." His favorite non-adventures include the "Thief," "Uncharted," and "Ratchet & Clank" franchises, all of the Bioware RPGs, Skyrim, and Final Fantasy XII.   Ray writes about the movies for the Bryan/College Station Daily Eagle, which is the old-fashioned thing called a "newspaper." He's been on eight game shows. He's taught in seven countries and has visited twenty-one. His favorite classic movie star is Barbara Stanwyck and his favorite novel is "The Hotel New Hampshire" by John Irving.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.