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TRANSCRIPT: The game that can add 10 years to your life

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2014 at 11:27 am

The following is a transcript of my 2012 TED Global talk. Transcripts are also available here in 20+ other languages.

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I’m a gamer, so I like to have goals. I like special missions and secret objectives. So here’s my special mission for this talk: I’m going to try to increase the life span of every single person in this room by seven and a half minutes. Literally, you will live seven and half minutes longer than you would have otherwise, just because you watched this talk.

Okay, some of you are looking a little bit skeptical. That’s okay, because check it out — I have math to prove that it is possible. And it won’t make a lot of sense now. I’ll explain it all later, just pay attention to the number at the bottom: plus-7.68245837 minutes that will be my gift to you if I’m successful in my mission.

Now, you have a secret mission too. Your mission is to figure out how you want to spend your extra seven and a half minutes. And I think you should do something unusual with them, because these are bonus minutes. You weren’t going to have them anyway.

Now, because I’m a game designer, you might be thinking to yourself, I know what she wants us to do with those minutes, she wants us to spend them playing games. Now this is a totally reasonable assumption, given that I have made quite a habit of encouraging people to spend more time playing games. For example, in my first TEDTalk, I did propose that we should spend 21 billion hours a week as a planet playing video games.

Now, 21 billion hours, it’s a lot of time. It’s so much time, in fact, that the number one unsolicited comment that I have heard from people all over the world since I gave that talk, is this: Jane, games are great and all, but on your deathbed, are you really going to wish you spent more time playing Angry Birds? This idea is so pervasive — that games are a waste of time that we will come to regret — that I hear it literally everywhere I go.For example, true story: Just a few weeks ago, this cab driver, upon finding out that a friend and I were in town for a game developer’s conference, turned around and said — and I quote — “I hate games. Waste of life. Imagine getting to the end of your life and regretting all that time.”

Now, I want to take this problem seriously. I mean, I want games to be a force for good in the world. I don’t want gamers to regret the time they spent playing, time that I encouraged them to spend. So I have been thinking about this question a lot lately. When we’re on our deathbeds, will we regret the time we spent playing games?

Now, this may surprise you, but it turns out there is actually some scientific research on this question. It’s true. Hospice workers, the people who take care of us at the end of our lives, recently issued a report on the most frequently expressed regrets that people say when they are literally on their deathbeds. And that’s what I want to share with you today — the top five regrets of the dying.

Number one: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. Number two: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Number three: I wish I had let myself be happier. Number four: I wish I’d had the courage to express my true self. And number five: I wish I’d lived a life true to my dreams, instead of what others expected of me.

Now, as far as I know, no one ever told one of the hospice workers, I wish I’d spent more time playing video games, but when I hear these top five regrets of the dying, I can’t help but hear five deep human cravings that games actually help us fulfill.

For example, I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. For many people, this means, I wish I’d spent more time with my family, with my kids when they were growing up. Well, we know that playing games together has tremendous family benefits. A recent study from Brigham Young University School of Family life reported that parents who spend more time playing video games with their kids have much stronger real-life relationships with them.

I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends. Well, hundreds of millions of people use social games like FarmVille or Words With Friends to stay in daily contact with real-life friends and family. A recent study from [University of Michigan] showed that these games are incredibly powerful relationship-management tools. They help us stay connected with people in our social network that we would otherwise grow distant from, if we weren’t playing games together.

I wish I’d let myself be happier. Well, here I can’t help but think of the groundbreaking clinical trials recently conducted at East Carolina University that showed that online games can outperform pharmaceuticals for treating clinical anxiety and depression. Just 30 minutes of online game play a day was enough to create dramatic boosts in mood and long-term increases in happiness.

I wish I’d had the courage to express my true self. Well, avatars are a way to express our true selves, our most heroic, idealized version of who we might become. You can see that in this alter ego portrait by Robbie Cooper of a gamer with his avatar. And Stanford University has been doing research for five years now to document how playing a game with an idealized avatar changes how we think and act in real life, making us more courageous, more ambitious, more committed to our goals.

I wish I’d led a life true to my dreams, and not what others expected of me. Are games doing this yet? I’m not sure, so I’ve left a question mark, a Super Mario question mark.And we’re going to come back to this one.

But in the mean time, perhaps you’re wondering, who is this game designer to be talking to us about deathbed regrets? And it’s true, I’ve never worked in a hospice, I’ve never been on my deathbed. But recently I did spend three months in bed, wanting to die.Really wanting to die.

Now let me tell you that story. It started two years ago, when I hit my head and got a concussion. Now the concussion didn’t heal properly, and after 30 days I was left with symptoms like nonstop headaches, nausea, vertigo, memory loss, mental fog. My doctor told me that in order to heal my brain, I had to rest it. So I had to avoid everything that triggered my symptoms. For me that meant no reading, no writing, no video games, no work or email, no running, no alcohol, no caffeine. In other words — and I think you see where this is going — no reason to live.

Of course it’s meant to be funny, but in all seriousness, suicidal ideation is quite commonwith traumatic brain injuries. It happens to one in three, and it happened to me. My brain started telling me, Jane, you want to die. It said, you’re never going to get better. It said, the pain will never end.

And these voices became so persistent and so persuasive that I started to legitimately fear for my life, which is the time that I said to myself after 34 days — and I will never forget this moment — I said, I am either going to kill myself or I’m going to turn this into a game.

Now, why a game? I knew from researching the psychology of games for more than a decade that when we play a game — and this is in the scientific literature — we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, more determination, more optimism, and we’re more likely to reach out to others for help. And I wanted to bring these gamer traits to my real-life challenge, so I created a role-playing recovery game called Jane the Concussion Slayer.

Now this became my new secret identity, and the first thing I did as a slayer was call my twin sister — I have an identical twin sister named Kelly — and tell her, I’m playing a game to heal my brain, and I want you to play with me. This was an easier way to ask for help.

She became my first ally in the game, my husband Kiyash joined next, and together we identified and battled the bad guys. Now this was anything that could trigger my symptoms and therefore slow down the healing process, things like bright lights and crowded spaces. We also collected and activated power-ups. This was anything I could do on even my worst day to feel just a little bit good, just a little bit productive. Things like cuddling my dog for 10 minutes, or getting out of bed and walking around the block just once.

Now the game was that simple: Adopt a secret identity, recruit your allies, battle the bad guys, activate the power-ups. But even with a game so simple, within just a couple days of starting to play, that fog of depression and anxiety went away. It just vanished. It felt like a miracle. Now it wasn’t a miracle cure for the headaches or the cognitive symptoms.That lasted for more than a year, and it was the hardest year of my life by far. But even when I still had the symptoms, even while I was still in pain, I stopped suffering.

Now what happened next with the game surprised me. I put up some blog posts and videos online, explaining how to play. But not everybody has a concussion, obviously, not everyone wants to be “the slayer,” so I renamed the game SuperBetter.

And soon I started hearing from people all over the world who were adopting their own secret identity, recruiting their own allies, and they were getting “super better” facing challenges like cancer and chronic pain, depression and Crohn’s disease. Even people were playing it for terminal diagnoses like ALS. And I could tell from their messages and their videos that the game was helping them in the same ways that it helped me. They talked about feeling stronger and braver. They talked about feeling better understood by their friends and family. And they even talked about feeling happier, even though they were in pain, even though they were tackling the toughest challenge of their lives.

Now at the time, I’m thinking to myself, what is going on here? I mean, how could a game so trivial intervene so powerfully in such serious, and in some cases life-and-death, circumstances? I mean, if it hadn’t worked for me, there’s no way I would have believed it was possible. Well, it turns out there’s some science here too. Some people get stronger and happier after a traumatic event. And that’s what was happening to us.

The game was helping us experience what scientists call post-traumatic growth, which is not something we usually hear about. We usually hear about post-traumatic stress disorder. But scientists now know that a traumatic event doesn’t doom us to suffer indefinitely. Instead, we can use it as a springboard to unleash our best qualities and lead happier lives.

Here are the top five things that people with post-traumatic growth say: My priorities have changed. I’m not afraid to do what makes me happy. I feel closer to my friends and family. I understand myself better. I know who I really am now. I have a new sense of meaning and purpose in my life. I’m better able to focus on my goals and dreams.

Now, does this sound familiar? It should, because the top five traits of post-traumatic growth are essentially the direct opposite of the top five regrets of the dying. Now this is interesting, right? It seems that somehow, a traumatic event can unlock our ability to lead a life with fewer regrets.

But how does it work? How do you get from trauma to growth? Or better yet, is there a way to get all the benefits of post-traumatic growth without the trauma, without having to hit your head in the first place? That would be good, right?

I wanted to understand the phenomenon better, so I devoured the scientific literature, and here’s what I learned. There are four kinds of strength, or resilience, that contribute to post-traumatic growth, and there are scientifically validated activities that you can do every day to build up these four kinds of resilience, and you don’t need a trauma to do it.

Now, I could tell you what these four types of strength are, but I’d rather you experience them firsthand. I’d rather we all start building them up together right now. So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to play a quick game together. This is where you earn those seven and a half minutes of bonus life that I promised you earlier. All you have to do is successfully complete the first four SuperBetter quests. And I feel like you can do it. I have confidence in you.

So, everybody ready? This is your first quest. Here we go. Pick one: Stand up and take three steps, or make your hands into fists, raise them over your head as high as you can for five seconds. Go! All right, I like the people doing both. You are overachievers. Very good. (Laughter)

Well done, everyone. Now that is worth plus-one physical resilience, which means that your body can withstand more stress and heal itself faster. Now we know from the research that the number one thing you can do to boost your physical resilience is to not sit still. That’s all it takes. Every single second that you are not sitting still, you are actively improving the health of your heart, and your lungs and brains.

Everybody ready for your next quest? I want you to snap your fingers exactly 50 times, or count backwards from 100 by seven, like this: 100, 93 … Go!


Don’t give up.


Don’t let the people counting down from 100 interfere with your counting to 50.


Nice. Wow. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen that. Bonus physical resilience. Well done, everyone. Now that’s worth plus-one mental resilience, which means you have more mental focus, more discipline, determination and willpower. We know from the scientific research that willpower actually works like a muscle. It gets stronger the more you exercise it. So tackling a tiny challenge without giving up, even one as absurd as snapping your fingers exactly 50 times or counting backwards from 100 by seven is actually a scientifically validated way to boost your willpower.

So good job. Quest number three. Pick one: Now because of the room we’re in, fate’s really determined this for you, but here are the two options. If you’re inside, find a window and look out of it. If you’re outside, find a window and look in. Or do a quick YouTube or Google image search for “baby [your favorite animal.]”

Now, you could do this on your phones, or you could just shout out some baby animals,I’m going to find some and put them on the screen for us. So, what do we want to see?Sloth, giraffe, elephant, snake. Okay, let’s see what we got. Baby dolphin and baby llamas. Everybody look. Got that? Okay, one more. Baby elephant. We’re clapping for that? That’s amazing.

All right, now what we’re just feeling there is plus-one emotional resilience, which means you have the ability to provoke powerful, positive emotions like curiosity or love, which we feel when we look at baby animals, when you need them most.

And here’s a secret from the scientific literature for you. If you can manage to experience three positive emotions for every one negative emotion over the course of an hour, a day, a week, you dramatically improve your health and your ability to successfully tackle any problem you’re facing. And this is called the three-to-one positive emotion ratio. It’s my favorite SuperBetter trick, so keep it up.

All right, pick one, last quest: Shake someone’s hand for six seconds, or send someone a quick thank you by text, email, Facebook or Twitter. Go!


Looking good, looking good. Nice, nice. Keep it up. I love it! All right, everybody, that is plus-one social resilience, which means you actually get more strength from your friends,your neighbors, your family, your community. Now, a great way to boost social resilience is gratitude. Touch is even better.

Here’s one more secret for you: Shaking someone’s hand for six seconds dramatically raises the level of oxytocin in your bloodstream, now that’s the trust hormone. That means that all of you who just shook hands are biochemically primed to like and want to help each other. This will linger during the break, so take advantage of the networking opportunities.


Okay, well you have successfully completed your four quests, so let’s see if I’ve successfully completed my mission to give you seven and a half minutes of bonus life.And here’s where I get to share one more little bit of science with you. It turns out that people who regularly boost these four types of resilience — physical, mental, emotional and social — live 10 years longer than everyone else. So this is true. If you are regularly achieving the three-to-one positive emotion ratio, if you are never sitting still for more than an hour at a time, if you are reaching out to one person you care about every single day, if you are tackling tiny goals to boost your willpower, you will live 10 years longer than everyone else, and here’s where that math I showed you earlier comes in.

So, the average life expectancy in the U.S. and the U.K. is 78.1 years, but we know from more than 1,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies that you can add 10 years of life to that by boosting your four types of resilience. So every single year that you are boosting your four types of resilience, you’re actually earning .128 more years of life or 46 more days of life, or 67,298 more minutes of life, which means every single day, you are earning 184 minutes of life, or every single hour that you are boosting your four types of resilience,like we just did together, you are earning 7.68245837 more minutes of life.

Congratulations, those seven and a half minutes are all yours. You totally earned them.


Yeah! Awesome. Wait, wait, wait. You still have your special mission, your secret mission.How are you going to spend these seven and a half minutes of bonus life?

Well, here’s my suggestion. These seven and a half bonus minutes are kind of like genie’s wishes. You can use your first wish to wish for a million more wishes. Pretty clever, right? So, if you spend these seven and a half minutes today doing something that makes you happy, or that gets you physically active, or puts you in touch with someone you care about, or even just tackling a tiny challenge, you are going to boost your resilience, so you’re going to earn more minutes.

And the good news is, you can keep going like that. Every hour of the day, every day of your life, all the way to your deathbed, which will now be 10 years later than it would have otherwise. And when you get there, more than likely, you will not have any of those top five regrets, because you will have built up the strength and resilience to lead a life truer to your dreams. And with 10 extra years, you might even have enough time to play a few more games.

Thank you.


TRANSCRIPT: Games can make a better world

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2014 at 11:22 am

The following is a transcript of my 2010 TED talk. Transcripts are also available here in 20+ other languages.

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I’m Jane McGonigal. I’m a game designer. I’ve been making games online now for 10 years, and my goal for the next decade is to try to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online games. Now, I have a plan for this, and it entails convincing more people, including all of you, to spend more time playing bigger and better games.

Right now we spend three billion hours a week playing online games. Some of you might be thinking, “That’s a lot of time to spend playing games. Maybe too much time, considering how many urgent problems we have to solve in the real world.” But actually, according to my research at The Institute For The Future, it’s actually the opposite is true.Three billion hours a week is not nearly enough game play to solve the world’s most urgent problems.

In fact, I believe that if we want to survive the next century on this planet, we need to increase that total dramatically. I’ve calculated the total we need at 21 billion hours of game play every week. So, that’s probably a bit of a counterintuitive idea, so I’ll say it again, let it sink in: If we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity, I believe that we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week, by the end of the next decade. (Laughter) No. I’m serious. I am.

Here’s why. This picture pretty much sums up why I think games are so essential to the future survival of the human species. (Laughter) Truly. This is a portrait by a photographer named Phil Toledano. He wanted to capture the emotion of gaming, so he set up a camera in front of gamers while they were playing. And this is a classic gaming emotion. Now, if you’re not a gamer, you might miss some of the nuance in this photo.You probably see the sense of urgency, a little bit of fear, but intense concentration,deep, deep focus on tackling a really difficult problem.

If you are a gamer, you will notice a few nuances here: the crinkle of the eyes up, and around the mouth is a sign of optimism, and the eyebrows up is surprise. This is a gamer who is on the verge of something called an epic win. (Laughter) Oh, you’ve heard of that. OK, good, so we have some gamers among us. An epic win is an outcome that is so extraordinarily positive you had no idea it was even possible until you achieved it. It was almost beyond the threshold of imagination. And when you get there you are shocked to discover what you are truly capable of. That is an epic win. This is a gamer on the verge of an epic win. And this is the face that we need to see on millions of problem-solvers all over the world as we try to tackle the obstacles of the next century — the face of someone who, against all odds is on the verge of an epic win.

Now, unfortunately this is more of the face that we see in everyday life now as we try to tackle urgent problems. This is what I call the “I’m Not Good At Life” face, and this is actually me making it. Can you see? Yes. Good. This is actually me making the “I’m Not Good At Life” face. This is a piece of graffiti in my old neighborhood in Berkeley, California, where I did my PhD on why we’re better in games than we are in real life. And this is a problem that a lot of gamers have. We feel that we are not as good in reality as we are in games.

And I don’t mean just good as in successful, although that’s part of it. We do achieve more in game worlds. But I also mean good as in motivated to do something that matters, inspired to collaborate and to cooperate. And when we’re in game worlds I believe that many of us become the best version of ourselves, the most likely to help at a moment’s notice, the most likely to stick with a problem as long at it takes, to get up after failure and try again. And in real life, when we face failure, when we confront obstacles, we often don’t feel that way. We feel overcome, we feel overwhelmed, we feel anxious, maybe depressed, frustrated or cynical. We never have those feelings when we’re playing games, they just don’t exist in games. So, that’s what I wanted to study when I was a graduate student.

What about games makes it impossible to feel that we can’t achieve everything? How can we take those feelings from games and apply them to real-world work? So, I looked at games like World of Warcraft, which is really the ideal collaborative problem-solving environment. And I started to notice a few things that make epic wins so possible in online worlds.

So, the first thing is whenever you show up in one of these online games, especially in World of Warcraft, there are lots and lots of different characters who are willing to trust you with a world-saving mission, right away. But not just any mission, it’s a mission that is perfectly matched with your current level in the game. Right? So, you can do it. They never give you a challenge that you can’t achieve. But it is on the verge of what you’re capable of. So, you have to try hard, but there’s no unemployment in World of Warcraft.There is no sitting around wringing your hands, there’s always something specific and important to be done. And there are also tons of collaborators. Everywhere you go, hundreds of thousands of people ready to work with you to achieve your epic mission.

That’s not something that we have in real life that easily, this sense that at our fingertipsare tons of collaborators. And also there is this epic story, this inspiring story of why we’re there, and what we’re doing. And then we get all this positive feedback. You guys have heard of leveling up and plus-one strength, and plus-one intelligence. We don’t get that kind of constant feedback in real life. When I get off this stage I’m not going to have plus-one speaking, and plus-one crazy idea, plus-20 crazy idea. I don’t get that feedback in real life.

Now, the problem with collaborative online environments like World of Warcraft is that it’s so satisfying to be on the verge of an epic win all the time that we decide to spend all our time in these game worlds. It’s just better than reality. So, so far, collectively all the World of Warcraft gamers have spent 5.93 million years solving the virtual problems of Azeroth.Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It might sound like it’s a bad thing. But to put that in context: 5.93 million years ago was when our earliest primate human ancestors stood up. That was the first upright primate.

Okay, so when we talk about how much time we’re currently investing in playing games, the only way it makes sense to even think about it is to talk about time at the magnitude of human evolution, which is an extraordinary thing. But it’s also apt. Because it turns outthat by spending all this time playing games, we’re actually changing what we are capable of as human beings. We are evolving to be a more collaborative and hearty species. This is true. I believe this.

So, consider this really interesting statistic; it was recently published by a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University: The average young person today in a country with a strong gamer culture will have spent 10,000 hours playing online games by the age of 21. Now 10,000 hours is a really interesting number for two reasons. First of all, for children in the United States 10,080 hours is the exact amount of time you will spend in school from fifth grade to high school graduation if you have perfect attendance.

So, we have an entire parallel track of education going on where young people are learning as much about what it takes to be a good gamer as they are learning about everything else in school. And some of you have probably read Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “Outliers.” So, you would have heard of his theory of success, the 10,000 hour theory of success. It’s based on this great cognitive science research that if we can master 10,000 hours of effortful study at anything by the age of 21, we will be virtuosos at it. We will be as good at whatever we do as the greatest people in the world. And so, now what we’re looking at is an entire generation of young people who are virtuoso gamers.

So, the big question is, “What exactly are gamers getting so good at?” Because if we could figure that out, we would have a virtually unprecedented human resource on our hands. This is how many people we now have in the world who spend at least an hour a day playing online games. These are our virtuoso gamers, 500 million people who are extraordinarily good at something. And in the next decade we’re going to have another billion gamers who are extraordinarily good at whatever that is. If you don’t know it already, this is coming. The game industry is developing consoles that are low energy and that work with the wireless phone networks instead of broadband Internet so that gamers all over the world, particularly in India, China, Brazil, can get online. They expect one billion more gamers in the next decade. It will bring us up to 1.5 billion gamers.

So, I’ve started to think about what these games are making us virtuosos at. Here are the four things I came up with. The first is urgent optimism. OK, think of this as extreme self-motivation. Urgent optimism is the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle,combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success. Gamers always believe that an epic win is possible, and that it is always worth trying, and trying now.Gamers don’t sit around. Gamers are virtuosos at weaving a tight social fabric. There’s a lot of interesting research that shows that we like people better after we play a game with them, even if they’ve beaten us badly. And the reason is, it takes a lot of trust to play a game with someone. We trust that they will spend their time with us, that they will play by the same rules, value the same goal, they’ll stay with the game until it’s over.

And so, playing a game together actually builds up bonds and trust and cooperation. And we actually build stronger social relationships as a result. Blissful productivity. I love it.You know there’s a reason why the average World of Warcraft gamer plays for 22 hours a week, kind of a half-time job. It’s because we know, when we’re playing a game, that we’re actually happier working hard than we are relaxing, or hanging out. We know that we are optimized, as human beings, to do hard meaningful work. And gamers are willing to work hard all the time, if they’re given the right work.

Finally: epic meaning. Gamers love to be attached to awe-inspiring missions to human planetary-scale stories. So, just one bit of trivia that helps put that into perspective: So, you all know Wikipedia, biggest wiki in the world. Second biggest wiki in the world, with nearly 80,000 articles, is the World of Warcraft wiki. Five million people use it every month. They have compiled more information about World of Warcraft on the Internet than any other topic covered on any other wiki in the world. They are building an epic story. They are building an epic knowledge resource about the World of Warcraft.

Okay, so these are four superpowers that add up to one thing: Gamers are super-empowered, hopeful individuals. These are people who believe that they are individually capable of changing the world. And the only problem is that they believe that they are capable of changing virtual worlds and not the real world. That’s the problem that I’m trying to solve.

There’s an economist named Edward Castronova. His work is brilliant. He looks at whypeople are investing so much time and energy and money in online worlds. And he says, “We’re witnessing what amounts to no less than a mass exodus to virtual worlds and online game environments.” And he’s an economist. So, he’s rational. And he says … (Laughter) Not like me — I’m a game designer; I’m exuberant. But he says that this makes perfect sense, because gamers can achieve more in online worlds than they can in real life. They can have stronger social relationships in games than they can have in real life; they get better feedback and feel more rewarded in games than they do in real life. So, he says for now it makes perfect sense for gamers to spend more time in virtual worlds than the real world. Now, I also agree that that is rational, for now. But it is not, by any means, an optimal situation. We have to start making the real world more like a game.

So, I take my inspiration from something that happened 2,500 years ago. These are ancient dice, made out of sheep’s knuckles. Right? Before we had awesome game controllers, we had sheep’s knuckles. And these represent the first game equipmentdesigned by human beings. And if you’re familiar with the work of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, you might know this history, which is the history of who invented games and why. Herodotus says that games, particularly dice games, were invented in the kingdom of Lydia during a time of famine.

Apparently, there was such a severe famine that the king of Lydia decided that they had to do something crazy. People were suffering. People were fighting. It was an extreme situation, they needed an extreme solution. So, according to Herodotus, they invented dice games and they set up a kingdom-wide policy: On one day, everybody would eat,and on the next day, everybody would play games. And they would be so immersed in playing the dice games because games are so engaging, and immerse us in such satisfying blissful productivity, they would ignore the fact that they had no food to eat. And then on the next day, they would play games; and on the next day, they would eat.

And according to Herodotus, they passed 18 years this way, surviving through a famineby eating on one day and playing games on the next. Now, this is exactly, I think, how we’re using games today. We’re using games to escape real-world suffering. We’re using games to get away from everything that’s broken in the real environment, everything that’s not satisfying about real life, and we’re getting what we need from games.

But it doesn’t have to end there. This is really exciting. According to Herodotus, after 18 years the famine wasn’t getting better, so the king decided they would play one final dice game. They divided the entire kingdom in half. They played one dice game, and the winners of that game got to go on an epic adventure. They would leave Lydia, and they would go out in search of a new place to live, leaving behind just enough people to survive on the resources that were available, and hopefully to take their civilizationsomewhere else where they could thrive.

Now, this sounds crazy, right? But recently, DNA evidence has shown that the Etruscans,who then led to the Roman Empire, actually share the same DNA as the ancient Lydians.And so, recently, scientists have suggested that Herodotus’ crazy story is actually true.And geologists have found evidence of a global cooling that lasted for nearly 20 years that could have explained the famine. So, this crazy story might be true. They might have actually saved their culture by playing games, escaping to games for 18 years, and then been so inspired, and knew so much about how to come together with games, that they actually saved the entire civilization that way.

Okay, we can do that. We’ve been playing Warcraft since 1994. That was the first real-time strategy game from the World of Warcraft series. That was 16 years ago. They played dice games for 18 years, we’ve been playing Warcraft for 16 years. I say we are ready for our own epic game. Now, they had half the civilization go off in search of a new world, so that’s where I get my 21 billion hours a week of game-play from. Let’s get half of us to agree to spend an hour a day playing games, until we solve real-world problems.

Now, I know you’re asking, “How are we going to solve real world problems in games?” Well, that’s what I have devoted my work to over the past few years, at The Institute For The Future. We have this banner in our offices in Palo Alto, and it expresses our view of how we should try to relate to the future. We do not want to try to predict the future.What we want to do is make the future. We want to imagine the best-case scenario outcome, and then we want to empower people to make that outcome a reality. We want to imagine epic wins, and then give people the means to achieve the epic win.

I’m just going to very briefly show you three games that I’ve made that are an attempt to give people the means to create epic wins in their own futures. So, this is World Without Oil. We made this game in 2007. This is an online game in which you try to survive an oil shortage. The oil shortage is fictional, but we put enough online content out there for you to believe that it’s real, and to live your real life as if we’ve run out of oil. So when you come to the game, you sign up, you tell us where you live, and then we give you real-time news, videos, data feeds that show you exactly how much oil costs, what’s not available, how food supply is being affected, how transportation is being affected, if schools are closed, if there is rioting, and you have to figure out how you would live your real life as if this were true. And then we ask you to blog about it, to post videos, to post photos.

We piloted this game with 1,700 players in 2007, and we’ve tracked them for the three years since. And I can tell you that this is a transformative experience. Nobody wants to change how they live just because it’s good for the world, or because we’re supposed to.But if you immerse them in an epic adventure and tell them, “We’ve run out of oil. This is an amazing story and adventure for you to go on. Challenge yourself to see how you would survive,” most of our players have kept up the habits that they learned in this game.

So, for the next world-saving game, we decided to aim higher: bigger problem than just peak oil. We did a game called Superstruct at The Institute For The Future. And the premise was a supercomputer has calculated that humans have only 23 years left on the planet. This supercomputer was called the Global Extinction Awareness System, of course. We asked people to come online almost like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. You know Jerry Bruckheimer movies, you form a dream team — you’ve got the astronaut, the scientist, the ex-convict, and they all have something to do to save the world. (Laughter)

But in our game, instead of just having five people on the dream team, we said, “Everybody’s on the dream team, and it’s your job to invent the future of energy, the future of food, the future of health, the future of security and the future of the social safety net.” We had 8,000 people play that game for eight weeks. They came up with 500 insanely creative solutions that you can go online, if you Google “Superstruct,” and see.

So, finally, the last game, we’re launching it March 3rd. This is a game done with the World Bank Institute. If you complete the game you will be certified by the World Bank Institute, as a Social Innovator, class of 2010. Working with universities all over sub-Saharan Africa, and we are inviting them to learn social innovation skills. We’ve got a graphic novel, we’ve got leveling up in skills like local insight, knowledge networking,sustainability, vision and resourcefulness. I would like to invite all of you to please share this game with young people, anywhere in the world, particularly in developing areas, who might benefit from coming together to try to start to imagine their own social enterprises to save the world.

So, I’m going to wrap up now. I want to ask a question. What do you think happens next?We’ve got all these amazing gamers, we’ve got these games that are kind of pilots of what we might do, but none of them have saved the real world yet. Well I hope that you will agree with me that gamers are a human resource that we can use to do real-world work, that games are a powerful platform for change. We have all these amazing superpowers: blissful productivity, the ability to weave a tight social fabric, this feeling of urgent optimism and the desire for epic meaning.

I really hope that we can come together to play games that matter, to survive on this planet for another century. And that’s my hope, that you will join me in making and playing games like this. When I look forward to the next decade, I know two things for sure: that we can make any future we can imagine, and we can play any games we want.So, I say: Let the world-changing games begin. Thank you. (Applause)

SuperBetter: Show Me the Science!

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2014 at 11:10 am

UPDATED: Get even more science in the SuperBetter book!

Looking for the research behind SuperBetter Chief Creative Officer Jane McGonigal’s SXSW, Games for Health, Games for Change, or TED Global talks? Good news: You’ve found it!

Haven’t seen any of these talks yet? You can listen to one right now: Download or stream the podcast of Jane’s 2012 SXSW featured talk: A Crash Course in Getting SuperBetter. Or download the slides from Jane’s Games for Health keynote!

Curious for more breakthrough research? Join SuperBetter.com (it’s free) and explore the science in your Secret Lab! Watch videos, listen to mini-podcasts, or read our “level up” research summaries. And whenever you want to investigate further, you can access the original research yourself! We’ve curated more than 100 of our favorite scientific studies for you, on everything from “Lazy Exercise” to “The Science of Mindfulness”.


(TIP: The studies here are presented in the order they appear in the talks, so you can follow along with the online podcasts, videos or slides!)


A first-hand account from a hospice worker: “The most frequently expressed deathbed regrets.”



The Benefits of Playing Videogames With Your Kids

Research from Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life: “Game On: Associations Between Co-Playing Video Games and Adolescent Behavioral and Family Outcomes.”

Social Games are a Powerful Relationship Management Tool

Research from Michigan State University: “The ‘S’ in Social Network Games: Initiating, Maintaining, and Enhancing Relationships.”

Online Games Effectively Treat Clinical Anxiety, Depression, and Stress

Clinical trials and randomized controlled study from East Carolina University’s Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic: “The Efficacy of Prescribed Casual Video Games in Reducing Clinical Depression and Anxiety”; “EEG, HRV, and Psychological Correlates while Playing Casual Video Games”“The Effectiveness of Casual Video Games in  Improving Mood and Decreasing Stress”

Avatars Change Our Real-Life Behavior

Research from Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab“Doppelgangers: A New Form of Self”; “The Use of Doppelgangers to Promote Health Behavior Change”;  “The Proteus Effect: Implications of Transformed Digital Self-Representation on Online and Offline Behavior”; “The Proteus Effect: Self-Transformations in Virtual Reality”

Games Increase Creativity in Kids

Findings from the Children and Technology Project at Michigan State University: “Videogame playing tied to creativity” (summary) and full research paper.

Even Violent Games Improve Real-Life Cooperation Skills

Violent Gaming Leads to Cooperation, Not Aggression” (summary) and full research paper (academic log-in required); “Effect of Playing Violent Video Games Cooperatively on Subsequent Cooperative Behavior”

Games Help Us Tackle Tough Challenges With More Determination

Brain Changes in Videogamers”; “A Neurologist Makes the Case for Videogames”;  “The Neural Basis of Videogaming”; “Dopamine Levels May Determine Work Ethic

Games Increase Self-Efficacy

The Hope Lab/Re:Mission Case Study: “Your Brain on Re:Mission”; “A Video Game Improves Behavioral Outcomes in Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer”; “Interactivity and Reward-Related Neural Activity during a Serious Videogame



Personal Resilience Can Be Increased

Review of research literature: “Seven Principles of Building Personal Resilience

Post-Traumatic Growth is Possible

An introduction to post-traumatic growth”; “Post-Traumatic Growth in Young Adults”; “Who Am I Now? Helping Trauma Clients Find Meaning, Wisdom, and a Renewed Sense of Self”; “Assessing Strengths, Resilience and Growth: The Guide to Clinical Interventions”; “The Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory: Measuring the Positive Legacy of Trauma”; “Does Self-Reported Growth Reflect Genuine Positive Change?


Sitting Still is Dangerous

Data presented at the American Institute for Cancer Research: “The new science of ‘Sitting disease’

Brief Physical Activity Improves Physical Resilience

Review of the scientific literature: “Brief Bouts and Baby Steps for Physical Health

Research from the NIH: “Exercise Dose and Quality of Life”; “Little Exercise, Big Effects”




Willpower is Like a Muscle

Published in Current Directions of Psychological Research: “The Strength Model of Self-Control”

Review of the research literature: “The Science of Willpower

Realistic Optimism is a Strength

Published in American Psychologist: “In Search of Realistic Optimism

Published in Personality and Individual Differences:  “Mental Toughness, Optimism, Pessimism, and Coping Among Athletes




Frequent Positive Emotion Improves our Odds of Success

Research from the American Psychological Association: “The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?”

Positive Emotion Increases Creativity, Social Support

Research from the Review of General Psychology: “What Good are Positive Emotions?”

Positive Emotion Boosts Physical Health

Research from the NIH: “Psychological Resilience and Positive Emotion”

Research from the American Psychological Association:  “Does Positive Affect Influence Health?”

Positive Emotion Supports Neural Growth

Research from the American Psychological Association: “Perspectives from Affective Neuroscience”

The Tipping Point for Positive Emotion is 3:1

Research from University of Michigan: “The broaden-and-build theory of Positive Emotion




Social Relationships Make Us Stronger

Published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior: “Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy

Social Relationships Improve our Reaction to Stress

Research from the NIH: “Social Ties and Cardiovascular Function

Touch for 6 Seconds to Boost Oxytocin

Review of the scientific literature: “How to Be Happier: Touch More

Brief Touch Increases Trust Among Strangers

Research published in Evolution and Human Behavior: “Sacrifice Among Strangers is Mediated by Endogenous Oxytocin Release After Physical Contact




Social Resilience Boosts Longevity

Published in PLOS Medicine: Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-Analytic Review

Positive Emotion Boosts Longevity

Research published in Health Psychology: “The Power of Positive Emotions: It’s a Matter of Life or Death

Mental Resilience Boosts Longevity

From the NIH: “Optimism and Physical Health: A Meta-Analytic Review

Published in the Impact Journal on Aging: “Positive Attitudes Toward Life and Emotional Expression as Personality  Phenotypes for Centenarians

Physical Resilience Boosts Longevity

Published in the International Journal of Epidemiology: “Non-vigorous physical activity and all-cause mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis.”


The perfect gift for the gamer in your life (or their parents!)

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2013 at 11:06 am


I’d love to sign and personalize a paperback copy of the New York Times bestseller Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the Worldand write a special message inside to anyone you want. I’ll customize the message  — tell me their favorite game, or their aspirations (are they studying to be a game designer or hope to be one? are they working on a game for change right now?), or a tongue-in-cheek message (one I’m often asked to write: “Your mom finally admits that you were right! Keep gaming!”) Just be sure to tell me their name, and if they’re a gamer, a game designer (or aspiring), a parent of a gamer, a teacher, anything that will make it more personal.

I will ship to you (for wrapping), or if you want me to ship to the gift recipient, I will send it straight on and include a hand-written note explaining who the gift is from (e.g. “To John From Mom”, or “To Mom from John”). Let me know if I should mark the outside of the package “Do not open until [HOLIDAY]!” 🙂

BONUS: I’ll include a limited edition Fiero! monster pin with each autographed book. (“Fiero” is a gamer emotion explained on page 33 of the book…)

Sample fiero monster:

And if you’re really feeling the love for your gamer this year, why not include a copy of the classic gaming documentary G4M3RS, also signed and personalized by the Emmy-Award nominated director? (who just happens to be my husband — details below!)


$25 (includes free priority shipping in US):

A copy of Reality is Broken (paperback edition), signed with a personal message to anyone you want


Limited edition Fiero Monster pin


$35 (includes free priority shipping in the US)

A copy of Reality is Broken (paperback edition), signed by the author (me) with a personal message to anyone you want


A copy of the classic documentary G4M3RS, on DVD, signed by the Emmy Award-nominated director (Kiyash Monsef, my husband) with a personal message to the gamer in your life. G4M3RS follows competitive CounterStrike clans on the road to the international championship. It was described by PC Magazine as “Like Chicken Soup for the gamers’ soul.” The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “a riveting documentary”; the New York Daily News: “Fascinating and insightful”. (DVD normally retails for $18)


Limited edition Fiero Monster pin


(includes free priority shipping)

$40 The book (signed, personalized) + bonus limited edition pin!

$50 The book + DVD (signed, personalized) + bonus limited edition pin!

The Hard Part is the Fun Part (convocation speech)

In Uncategorized on August 23, 2013 at 5:30 am

Flying planes Miami University 2013 convocation

On August 24, 2013, I spoke to the incoming freshman class at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. To my great delight, my book Reality is Broken was chosen as the summer reading project, for all 4000 students. So I was happy to come speak to them in person — and even happier to design a special game for the occasion. Below is the text of my speech, which includes instructions for playing the game.

Please, if you are reading this, join in the game with us. Even if you’re not a member of any “Class of 2017”, you can surely imagine yourself four years from now, hopefully on the other side of some great obstacle or challenge that you are tackling now or hope to tackle soon. Imagine someone else, somewhere near you, is also facing a tough challenge — one they’ve chosen for themselves, like college, or a challenge that life has chosen for them. Play the game with that person in mind, and also keep in mind that you always have the power to choose new tough challenges for yourself — even if you never went to college, or finished college long ago. Today, we are all the class of 2017!

If you play the game with us, please post a pic of your plane on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #Advicefrom2017!


Jane McGonigal, PhD

Convocoation Speech – Miami University – August 24, 2013

The Hard Part is the Fun Part

Good morning! And congratulations. You’ve put in a lot of hard work to get here today, and your reward is that from now on, you get to choose your own adventures. This is a wonderful power to have. You are now officially in charge of your own destiny. And you’ve earned it. So please, have fun with it. Enjoy everything. Even the hard parts! In fact, especially the hard parts. If there’s anything I’ve learned as a game designer, it’s that the hard part is the fun part. We need a good challenge to have fun, to feel alive, to unleash our strengths, to turn strangers into teammates and allies. This is why we play games – sports, videogames, all games. We play them because nothing makes us happier or stronger than tackling a tough challenge that we choose for ourselves.

This is what the art of game design is all about. Game design is the art of enjoying the hard part. It’s the art of making goals more difficult to achieve, for no good reason, other than the fact that we have more fun that way! Take the game of golf, for example. The goal is to put a small ball into a small hole. If you weren’t playing a game, and you wanted to achieve this goal, you’d just walk right up to the hole and drop the ball in. Easy! But when we’re playing golf the game, for some reason, we agree to stand really far away from the hole. And to make things even worse, we use a stick to try to somehow get the ball from where we’re standing into the hole, way over there. This is a terrible way to try to achieve the goal of getting a small ball into a small hole. But we love it! Because golf is a game, and games are about the art of the hard part.  Games remind us that we actually have more fun when things are more difficult.

I try to remember this when things aren’t going so well in my real life. I try to remember that tackling tough obstacles is what we choose to do for fun when we’re bored. If you play any game or any sport, you’re like me. You crave the hard part.

So here’s one of the quirks of being a game designer, and an expert in game psychology. Because I know that I am happier and stronger when I’m tackling a tough challenge, I have a really bizarre approach to solving my real-life problems. I like to take whatever problem I have and make it harder before I try to solve it. It’s true! I intentionally make a stubborn obstacle even MORE difficult to overcome, because then I’ll have to use even more creativity to solve it. I’ll be less bored, and more engaged. And maybe, because the challenge is now so much more interesting and unusual, I’ll be able to get other people more excited about helping me solve it.

This is actually exactly what I’m doing here today, because instead of just giving a nice, normal convocation speech, I’m going to try to do something a lot harder than that.  You see, I find formal speech writing pretty difficult, and not that fun, so instead of just writing a normal speech, I’ve decided to design the world’s first massively multiplayer convocation game. Yes, of course, what did you expect? I’m a game designer! Of course we’re going to play a game together. All 4000 of us. And, let me tell you, designing a game for 4000 people to play at the same time is really, really hard. But that’s why I’m doing it! Because the hard part is the fun part.

Okay, so now let me tell you about this game I’ve invented for us to play together today. You have the materials for the game already, the paper with dotted lines and numbers, so you may have already guessed how part of this game will play out. Have you figured out yet what you’re supposed to do with the paper? I bet you have. You’re going to make paper airplanes. And then we’re going to do something pretty interesting with them.

The inspiration for this game started with an image that I couldn’t get out of my head. I imagined four thousand paper airplanes flying at the same time, in the same bit of sky.

I wanted to see if this would be possible to do. I’ve never seen 4000 paper airplanes take flight at the same time. It seems like it might be awesome and epic and you know, I really want to know what it looks like! So this was the beginning of the idea of my massively multiplayer convocation game, and to my great shock, I somehow managed to actually convince your wonderful president, Dr. David Hodge, to let us do this. So thank you President Hodge and thank you everyone at Miami University who took a chance to let us play this game together today.

So, 4000 paper airplanes flying overhead, that’s going to be a really cool moment to behold, to create together, but it’s not really a game. I mean, in the barest bones way, maybe it’s a game – the goal is to get 4000 paper airplanes in the air at the same time, and we’ll know we’ve won when we see all the planes in the air. And we lose if somehow we manage to screw up this pretty simple process, you know, maybe if you all turn out to be the worst folders of paper in the history of paper-folding and none of your planes take flight. That would be bad, and could lose. So I guess it could be a game, just to fly 4000 planes, but it’s a pretty easy game to win. And games should challenge us. The hard part is the fun part! So we need this game to be harder.

Good games should also bring out our best qualities. Some of the qualities I particularly like to bring out in players of my games are courage, creativity, and empathy – the ability to imagine what someone else is going through.

So I want to take this one interesting idea – 4000 airplanes in the sky – and try to design a better game around it, try to make it more challenging, so that all 4000 of you have the chance to rise to a small, heroic occasion this morning, and really tap into your own strengths.

So how can we create a more challenging and worthy goal for ourselves? Well, I asked some of my game designer friends for help, and they had some pretty weird ideas. One of my best friends said to me, “You should just put a giant bull’s eye on your head.” The idea being, I suppose, that you would all try to aim your paper airplanes at my face, and the more of you who actually hit my face, the higher your collective score. That sounds like a fun game… sort of. Okay, but we’re not going to do that.

Other friends suggested more competitive games. We could find out who among you can fly your plane the highest, or the furthest. But honestly, that’s just not my idea of what makes an awesome game. With a game like that, we would have 1 winner and 3999 losers. That’s just lazy game design. The last thing I want to do today is turn 3999 of you into losers. I’m not going to do that. It’s much harder for a game designer  – but more satisfying, I think – to design a game where it’s possible for everyone to win. Or even better, to not be sure who won, so you have to keep playing.

That’s the main difference between what game designers call “finite” versus “infinite games.” This is an idea I’m obsessed with. I write about the idea of finite vs. infinite games in my book, so this may sound familiar to you. To remind you, here is what the philosopher James Carse has to say about them:

“There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite.

A finite game is a game that has fixed rules and boundaries, that is played for the purpose of winning and thereby ending the game.

An infinite game has no fixed rules or boundaries. In an infinite game you play with the boundaries and the purpose is to continue the game.

Finite players are serious; infinite gamers are playful.”

I want us to be playful today, and not too serious. I want us to play an infinite game.

So here’s my idea for a 4000-player infinite paper airplane game. This is the game we’re actually going to play. It’s called Advicefrom2017, as in Advice from the Class of 2017. And this game is going to help us break the rules of a typical convocation speech, play with the boundaries of a typical speech..

In a normal speech, I get 18 minutes to try to inspire you or give you some useful advice. But there are 4000 people here who are as interesting as I am – all of you – and I’d kind of like to give you all the opportunity to give each other advice or inspiration. Sort of multiply the wisdom available here today. Instead of one convocation speaker, we can have 4000. This is one way of turning convocation from a small, finite game – one speaker, or one player – into a much bigger, and better game. A game we all get to play.

So I want you to imagine you had 30 seconds to stand up here at this microphone and say one thing to every single person in this room. What would you say? Would you give us advice? Would you offer some words of encouragement? Would you pay us a fabulous compliment? Or would you just sing us a few lyrics from your favorite song, or maybe quote your favorite movie?

Well, I’m not going to let all 4000 of you come up here and do that, because by my calculations that would take approximately 33 hours, which is 32 hours and 52 minutes longer than we have left. But if you play this game with me, you are going to get to inspire or give advice to at least one other person today.

Here is your goal: Before or after you fold it up, it doesn’t matter, you’re going to write something on your paper plane, something that you think one of your fellow students needs to hear today. If you know what you want to write, you can start writing it now. You have a few more minutes before it’s time to fly the planes, so don’t panic if you don’t know what you want to write yet. This is where the courage, and creativity, and empathy comes in. This is playful, you can’t say the wrong thing. Just keep this goal in mind: Try to write something that will make the person who catches your plane smile, or laugh, or feel better or stronger or more courageous in some way. Think of it as a mini pep-talk. If it helps, imagine you are flying this plane directly to your best friend, or to your brother or sister, or someone you really care about, write down the words of support you would say to them.

If you really want to win this game, I want you to imagine someone else catching your flying plane and opening it up. Someone who, like you, is here today to start tackling a very tough challenge. Picture this person taking the plane back to the dorm and putting it on their desk. They see the words you wrote again and it sticks with them like a good fortune cookie fortune. Or maybe even the words you write in that plane will find their way to someone, through luck or through fate, to someone who really needs to hear them. And maybe they will carry your advice with them for the next four years. That would be the ultimate win.

No one is going to know who wrote what, it’s anonymous and your plane will be up in the air and caught by who knows who. So you can play this however you want. It’s up to you to decide what to write.

This gives you a lot of freedom. Now, this is where the risk to me as a game designer comes in. I have to decide if I trust you enough to actually step up to the challenge — which I admit is not easy! — to try to write something down that might help the person who catches your plane. Really, you have total freedom here — You could write nothing, and just let your plane fly completely blank. But I do trust you. And I know that the hard part is the fun part. So even if this is hard for you, I want you to overcome the writer’s block or the boredom or the fact that you didn’t bring a pen with you or whatever might stop you from doing right by the one person who catches your plane. Try to give that person something, some small thing – whatever advice or wisdom or words of support YOU out of all 4000 people here have to give.

Now if for some reason you would prefer not to play today, that’s okay. Because play should be voluntary, so if for any reason you are not feeling inspired to join us in this game, I want to encourage you to consider participating in a different way. It would be great to get some photos or videos of whatever happens. So if you decide to sit the game out, perhaps you would helps us all out by pulling out your phone and getting some photos or video of all the airplanes flying!

Okay, so let me recap here. First, you’re going to fold a paper airplane. Then you’re going to think of some short words of wisdom or inspiration or advice might help the person who catches your plane. Write that down, and then we’re all going to throw our planes at the same time, and everyone is going to try to catch a plane. You win if you send some good words AND you catch some good words. If you don’t like the words you catch, throw the plane back in the air and catch a different one, until you like the words you get. You can also add new words to any plane you catch to try to make it better before you throw it back in the air. Just make sure you’re holding a paper airplane at the end of the game, I want everyone here to leave with one paper plane – and not the one you made yourself!

Go ahead and get started with the writing and folding if you haven’t yet. There are dotted lines and numbers on the paper to help you fold the plane if, like me, you’re not really a master paper plane flyer. Lend someone your pen if they need it. And then here is the thing. Do the writing and the folding now, but don’t fly the plane. When you’re done, and your words are written, and your plane is folded, I want you to hold your plane up in the air to signal that you’re ready. And when everyone’s plane is ready, when we’ve got all hands up, I’m going to count down from 3 and when I say “FLY”, everyone will throw their planes and we’ll get that awesome, epic moment. I hope. Don’t fly your plane until everyone is ready!

The game has started! Are your folding yet? Are you writing yet? I’m going to do this too, I’m going to fly a plane too. When you’re ready, hold your plane up in the air. And then get ready to catch one!

We’re almost ready – remember, if you don’t like what you catch, make it better and throw it back in the air!


Screen Shot 2013-08-24 at 10.41.36 AM

Okay, that was awesome. I caught a plane, and I’m going to read you what it says. [READ PLANE]  I’m also going to take a photo of it and tweet it. I’m going to tweet it with the hashtag #advicefrom2017. I want to see what you all caught, too, so I’m hoping you’ll tweet your plane’s words of wisdom, or post it on instagram. And use the hashtag #advicefrom2017 so I can find it, and everyone else can find it, and you can see what everyone else caught. I want to do this because I want to keep the game going. So the game doesn’t end here, so that it’s truly infinite. And having friends on Twitter I have it on good authority that if 1000 people tweet in 60 minutes with the same hashtag, we can get it #advicefrom2017 trending on Twitter, so other people will start playing too, and who knows maybe by the end of today there will be paper airplanes flying with words of advice in random towns and cities all over the place because of the game we started here at Miami University today. Now that would be a truly infinite game.

So while we are all in the mindset of infinite play, let me end by sharing with you a few more words Professor James Carse, some advice which I’m sure he would have written on his paper airplane if he were here today. This is his advice for how to play the game of life. He wrote:

“You can do what you do seriously, because you must do it, because you must survive to the end, and you are afraid of dying or failing or other consequences. Or, you can do everything you do playfully, always knowing you have a choice, having no need to survive the way you are, allowing every element of the play to transform you, taking pleasure in every surprise you meet. Those are the differences between finite and infinite players.”

I say, it’s up to you to decide whether college and the next four years of your life will be a finite or infinite game. I think you’ll enjoy yourself more and become a more interesting person if you choose to play the infinite game. If you make a mistake or fail at something you’ve tried, or have to change your plan, remember that’s not the end of the game – you haven’t lost. You’re in the middle of bigger game, and you’re still playing, and you don’t know how the game ends yet. Always have a goal that is bigger yourself, and seems frankly impossible, because that way you know the game will keep going. And make as many allies as you can. You’re off to a good start – you’ve made 4000 new allies by playing together today – and you’ve made me as an ally, and that’s a favor I want you to call in someday if you need it. Okay? Thank you for playing with me. Please tweet and instagram your plane with the hashtag #Advicefrom2017. I’ll be looking for them! And remember: The hard part is the fun part. Good luck!


There is No Escape: Designing Videogames for Maximum Real-Life Impact

In Uncategorized on March 27, 2013 at 1:11 pm

houdini in chains

If you caught my talk “There Is No Escape” at the 2013 Game Developers Conference (or watched the commentary on Twitter!), you know that I’m passionate about understanding the real-life impact that videogames have on our minds, our bodies, our ambitions, and our relationships.

Here are some resources to help you design games for maximum POSITIVE real-life impact.

Download a PDF of the slides! Jane McGonigal GDC 2013 There is no escape

(Wanna know even more? Check out my previous round-up of science must-reads for game designers at showmethescience.com. You can directly access 100+ peer-reviewed papers there on the science of positive emotion, building self-efficacy, strengthening relationships and more.)

Summary of the talk:

Do you think of games as “escapist” entertainment? Do you believe that the games you develop have little to no impact on your players’ real lives? If so, it’s time to wake up: There is no escape from reality, not even for gamers. Hundreds of scientific studies from the fields of psychology, neuroscience, family studies, and medicine document the myriad ways that games make a real and lasting impact on our brains and our bodies. Games change how we feel, think, act, and relate to each other even during the hours we’re not gaming. Most game impacts are positive, some can be negative, and the design of the game — more so than the content of the game — is what makes the difference. Whether you know it or not, you are already changing your players’ real lives. So get smarter about it. Accept that there is no escape — not from our brains, not from our bodies, and not from our relationships — and embrace the opportunity to design for maximum, positive real-life impact.


P.S. You’ve read my book already, right? Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World


The research:

The two modes of escape: Read the whole Self-expansion vs. Self-suppression thesis in PDF

Gamers Experience Greater Levels of Life Satisfaction and Happinessif they’re not trying to escape!

On Escaping the Self (an article) and and Escaping the Self (the full book) by Roy Baumeister (the same guy who did the famous two-marshmallow experiment!), this is the psychological model that associates escapism with suicide, anxiety, addiction, and more

Impact of positive emotions on success in life: “The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?” and “The broaden-and-build theory of Positive Emotion

Impact of positive emotions on health: Psychological Resilience and Positive Emotion and “Does Positive Affect Influence Health?”

Impact of social connection on health: “Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy

Calm or Chaos: Controlling the Stress Response

Fight or flight vs. Calm and Connect (the article is about the science of love, but keep reading — it gets to the relevant info from my talk halfway through!)

Snow World game helps burn victims in the most severe pain more than morphine

Plus some fun stuff:

Is Escapism actually the highest form of art? A theory of escapist art from io9

Urban Dictionary on escapism

Great quotations about escapism


(how to avoid designing games with negative real-life impact)

Kotaku does the best round-up anywhere of meta-analyses of 25 year of research on the question: Do videogames make you more aggressive?

Daniel Cook explains the testosterone science of co-op vs. competitive game design so you can improve your players’ real-life relationships

Sitting disease by the numbers

Sitting is the new smoking

Great ideas for disrupting all of this horrible sitting at Juststand.org


(how to make games with positive real-life impact!)

Watch Grandpa gamer play Call of Duty for the first time (okay, not a scientific resources, but still: AWESOME)

Daphne Bavelier explains cognitive enhancements from fast-paced action games in her Your Brain On Games TED talk (or read a summary of it in The neuroscience of how action games boost cognitive abilities)

Videogames lead to positive youth development (or read an excellent summary of it in New Research Emphasizes Gaming’s Contribution to Positive Youth Development)

Violent Gaming Leads to Cooperation, Not Aggression” (summary) and full research paper (academic log-in required);“Effect of Playing Violent Video Games Cooperatively on Subsequent Cooperative Behavior”

Stanford researchers document how virtual superpowers lead to real-life helping behavior

Other related Stanford research on avatars and how they impact our real-life behavior: “Doppelgangers: A New Form of Self”; “The Use of Doppelgangers to Promote Health Behavior Change”;  “The Proteus Effect: Implications of Transformed Digital Self-Representation on Online and Offline Behavior”; “The Proteus Effect: Self-Transformations in Virtual Reality”

Seniors and gaming: Seniors who play videogames report higher sense of well-beingVideo Games Requiring Physical Activity Alleviate Depression in Older Adults; Videogames May Help the Elderly Psychologically

Fast-paced action games boost reading in kids with dyslexia

Videogames increase social skills in autistic youth

Research from Michigan State University: “The ‘S’ in Social Network Games: Initiating, Maintaining, and Enhancing Relationships.”

Research from Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life: “Game On: Associations Between Co-Playing Video Games and Adolescent Behavioral and Family Outcomes.”

Clinical trials and randomized controlled study from East Carolina University’s Psychophysiology Lab and Biofeedback Clinic“EEG, HRV, and Psychological Correlates while Playing Casual Video Games”“The Effectiveness of Casual Video Games in  Improving Mood and Decreasing Stress”; A Randomized Controlled Study of the Efficacy of Casual Video Games to Treat Anxiety

On videogames, dopamine, and the neurological circuitry of the work ethic: “Brain Changes in Videogamers”; “A Neurologist Makes the Case for Videogames”;  “The Neural Basis of Videogaming”; “Dopamine Levels May Determine Work Ethic

Nature Scientific Journals’ review of research literature on brains and videogames (summary)

8 Awesome Videogame Infographics on the neuroscience of gaming, positive social impacts of gaming, heath impacts of gaming, and more – more studies that I mention in the talk are cited in their footnotes!

This is just some of the research, the amount out there about the positive impact of games is staggering! But these should be a good rabbit hole to fall down, see what else you discover.

Follow me on Twitter (@avantgame) to get all the latest research on games and their real-life impacts!

I’m seeking a commission for a live event or real-world game!

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2013 at 9:23 pm

I love making games for real-world spaces. And I love creating games that unfold as live events.

Many people know me for my research and my book, my TED talks, or my online collaborative games. But I’ve also made real-world games for public parks, downtown sidewalks, historic cemeteries, landmark buildings, city arts districts, public transportation, Times Square, and even the Great Wall of China. And the truth is: I like the real-world stuff way more than the online stuff.

I want to do of more of the real-world stuff, and I’m looking for a partner who can commission such a game.

  • Do you have a cool space? It could be a building, or a park, or monument, or architectural landmark, or a public space of any kind. I will create a game for it.
  • Do you have a festival or event that needs a big, amazing, extraordinary collective experience for hundreds or thousands of people? I will design an epic live event.
  • Are you a city that wants to infuse a particular neighborhood with live, shared play? I will explore the unique affordances of the space. I will come up with something strange and wonderful for people to do there that they couldn’t do anywhere else in the world.
  • Do you want to invent a more playful version of a walkathon, or overnight walk, or a marathon? Something physical, something that covers a lot of terrain — but with more curiosity, wonder, and play? I am super-interested in exactly this challenge: We can invent a new kind of fundraiser together.

I will bring hundreds or thousands of people together in the same space for an hour, or an afternoon,  or overnight to experience something epic and unforgettable in the real world. 

I will travel literally anywhere in the world for a juicy project. No continent is off-limits! The more inspiring the location or the more challenging the opportunity, the better!  I am looking for one or two big projects to focus on in 2013 and 2014.

Some of my favorite previous projects:

Find the Future: We locked 500 gamers in the New York Public Library overnight to collaborate on a book together. Sunset to sunrise, and no one is allowed out until they write a book!

The Lost Sport: The year of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, I traveled from city to city around the world — Vienna, London, San Francisco, Beijing, Bangkok, New York, Wellington — teaching thousands of players a “lost” Olympic Sport. Each city attempted to set new world records as players in other cities shared their best tricks and tips (and also tried to nab their own record!) We held the gold medal championships at the real Summer Olympic games in Beijing.

Tombstone Hold ‘Em: I collaborated with five historic cemeteries across the U.S. to hold special  events where groups of up to 200+ each came to “play their respects”. For the events, we invented a series of collective rituals and a version of poker in which tombstones represent playing cards.

CryptoZoo: We created a version of “parkour” (urban free running) for non-athletic, non-daredevil folks. Working together with the American Heart Associatio, we created 13 imaginary animals that appeared on city streets to inspire playful running through every urban space imaginable. We even had hundreds of CryptoZoo runners out for a midnight run through Time Square!

Cruel 2 B Kind: We ran live games for hundreds of players co-located in Times Square and downtown San Francisco as a way to embed social play in urban spaces. Teams won by literally killing each other with (random acts of) kindness. Hundreds of other Cruel 2 B Kind events were run by others all over the world.

These are the kinds of things I love to do.

After a year of digital-only game design, I’m hungry for the chance to invent a new sport, or transform an abandoned building, or breathe new life into an underappreciated public space, or otherwise create an unforgettable memory for hundreds or thousands of people assembled in the same space.

Email me at jane@avantgame.com if you have a space or a festival or a building or a city and want to commission something extraordinary. I’m available to create games or experiences for 2013 or 2014.