Reality is Broken Summary

In the first chapter of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World explains that the gaming industry is expanding rapidly. The industry, including computer and mobile gaming, is consuming a lot of people’s time and is expected to be worth up to “68 billion dollars annually by 2012”.  Gamers are people from all types of backgrounds, ages and live all over the world. Also gamers time playing can be on average between one and two hours, but there are millions of people playing twenty hours a week. The chapter in context of this explosion of gamer growth and time playing discusses peoples break from reality through games and how games are developed.  

People have normal lives that are entrenched in reality with their jobs, school, family and much more. But when it comes to games “Reality is Broken”. People are searching for something else that the real world is not able to provide them. Pleasures that they are not able to get from the real world such as the “feeling of power, heroic purpose, community, thrill of success and team victory”; games are a way to fill this void. People also turn to games because it is a way for people to escape real world issues. The world, especially these days, is truly messed up to the highest order. Games aren’t always safe worlds either, but unlike the real world we can control what we and how they get done based on the elements put into the games. The result is a trend that people are spending time escaping reality through games. The Entertainment Software Association annual study of game players reported: “69 percent of all heads of household play computer and video games, 97 percent of youth play computer and video games and most gamers expect to continue playing games for the rest of their lives.”

The book challenges the way the future should be for games to shift people from finding an alternative to reality but for games to solve problems and create happiness. To achieve this it is viewed that one needs to understand how games work. Games have four traits:

  1. Goal: the outcome a player is to achieve.
  2. Rules: eliminating or minimizing the rules so people can be creative and think strategically.
  3. Feedback System:  telling players in real time how the are doing to motivate the to keep playing.
  4. Voluntary Participation: players accept the above and the freedom to play or not play the game so people feel safe and enjoy the game.

These traits can be summarized in Suits quote “Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” This quote emphasizes that for game players to enjoy and be motivated to the challenges of so called manufactured obstacles, gamers must be motivated and free from rules and able to play when they want.

A great game goes beyond just these basic elements. There are two important emotional responses. They include “Flow” and “Fiero” Flow is the ability to play a game on the edge of your ability. This is a psychological term that “when you are in a state of flow, you want to stay there: both quitting and winning are equally unsatisfying outcomes”. Fiero is when you win in face of challenges. The classic response is when you “throw your arms over our head and yell”. These are important to games because without the sense of concentration and enjoyment in victories, games wouldn’t be enjoyable. These are just as important to life because everyone wants to feel a sense of self accomplishment.



McGonigal, Jane. Reality Is Broken Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. 2011.


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