Library book review: “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World”

Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal
Library Technician, CityU Library
Sara Hatch reviews “Reality is broken”

Review By Sara Hatch, Library Technician

In everything I read lately, people are discussing game theory and education.  The term “game-based learning” is mingled with “innovation” and “collaboration.” This spring, the New Media Consortium, an international non-profit group of learning-focused organizations, released their 2014 Horizon Report which focuses on the technology areas that will have a major impact on educational institutions in the next few years.  They suggest that within 2-3 years game-based learning is going to see significant growth, and become more prevalent in higher education.

In Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal offers a new look at games and what they can do for us.  Jane believes that games potentially offer more than just addictive entertainment; they offer insight into what we want and need as human beings.  Her book firmly asserts that game theory can be applied to real life, and that when game theory is applied to real life, life is better. The moment I saw Jane’s TED talk, I was moved, motivated, and impressed, so I snatched up her book first chance I got.

As an avid gamer myself, I have to admit that I didn’t read the book with complete objectivity.  I found myself cheering as she mentions the ability of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) to bring a group of strangers together and give them a goal and motivate them to achieve something great together.

An MMO environment allows players to collaborate across the barriers of country and language, and to interact and problem-solve in ways that would be difficult in real life. Jane writes with earnest optimism about the potential of game-based problem solving to resolve the challenging issues that face us in the real world, and even though her vision remains largely unrealized, her theories are dynamic and her idealism convincing.  If you are interested in current technology trends in education, I highly recommend Reality is Broken. Whether you embrace the idea of games in higher education or not, the ideas Jane addresses are relevant and timely, and the book is an entertaining and engaging read.

Reality is Broken:  Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. McGonigal, Jane. 2011. New York, NY: Penguin Press. 416 pages. (CityU Library GV1469.17.S63 M34 2011) Check to find a copy at the library closest to you.

Curriculum Connections

There are a variety of disciplines which might benefit from exploring the themes discussed in Reality is Broken. For example:

Leadership and Management:  Games allow us to learn about ourselves; what our strengths are, what makes us happy, and what motivates and drives us.  They also give us the opportunity to reach beyond who we are in the “real” world and re-create ourselves, opening us up to opportunities to think, organize and act in new and exciting ways.  Jane offers a glimpse of some of the kinds of opportunities we have available to us today, and how to apply what we learn from games to real life.

Education:  Kids today grow up immersed in a world of high-intensity, engaging games that encourage them to try (and fail) as many times as it takes until they master a skill and level up.  School today on the other hand is mandatory, standardized, and failure goes on your permanent record. Jane explores the idea that schools should work more like a game to encourage active participation.

Related Resources

This is a short list of some of the resources referenced in or related to Reality is Broken.  Please note: Resources listed with [Login Required] are available to CityU students, faculty and staff, and may be available to other readers through their local libraries.

Castronova, E. (2007). Exodus to the virtual world: How online fun is changing reality. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. (CityU Library GV1469.15 .C393 2008)

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.(CityU Library BF575.H27 C85 1991)

Lerner, E. (2011, May 23). Game night at the N.Y.P.L. The New Yorker. See also the game trailer video that inspired 500 people to spend the night writing a book at the NY Public Library.

McGonigal, J. (2010, February). Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world [Video file].

McGonigal, J. (1999). This might be a game: Ubiquitous play and performance at the turn of the twenty-first century. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation) University of California, Berkeley.

Prensky, M. (2005). Engage me or enrage me: What today’s learners demand. Educause Review, 40(5), 60-64.

Seligman, M. E. (1998). Learned optimism. New York: Pocket Books. (CityU Library BJ1477 .S45 1992)

CityU Library book reviews feature materials relevant to academic programs. Each review will include curriculum connections and a list of related resources.  We hope you enjoy learning and discovering new resources with us!

Published September 4, 2014



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