Looking for all of the gaming research I cite in my talks? I round up 100s of studies for you here:

SuperBetter: Show Me the Science

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


“A Randomized Controlled Trial: The Effects of SuperBetter on Depression.” University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with SuperBetter Labs. (2013, PDF)

A six-week trial of the mobile game SuperBetter yielded positive results: for the typical player, the game eliminates six symptoms of depression in six weeks.

“Clinical Trial of a Rehabiliation Game – SuperBetter.” NIH-funded trial in collaboration with Ohio State University Medical Research Center.

Today’s hospitals need innovative solutions to help patients transition from our care to self-management at home. The vast majority of the patients seen in Dodd Rehabilitation Hospital and associated clinics leave our care with persistent and life-altering challenges – behavioral, cognitive, emotional and/or physical. The period of time immediately following discharge is an under-addressed stage within the continuum of care. The investigators are researching solutions to help patients in this transition to self-care and believe that multiplayer gaming paradigms may be a promising innovation to facilitate this transition.

The investigators believe that Dr. Jane McGonigal’s SuperBetter, and positive play games like it, are promising novel interventions that could make a positive difference in the ability of our patients to successfully transition to self care after discharge from therapeutic care. Specifically, the investigators will evaluate feasibility of use of such a game by mild to moderate brain injured individuals and to record pilot data to help us plan a clinical effectiveness follow up study. Our goal is to finish this study with an intervention tailored for use within the clinical continuum of care and sufficient pilot data to prepare for a randomized clinical control trial of this intervention. (Update: RANDOMIZED, CLINICAL CONTROL TRIAL WILL BE CONDUCTED IN 2014.)


“The Engagement Economy.” Technology Horizons, The Institute for the Future. (2008, PDF)

In the economy of engagement, it is less and less important to compete for attention, and more and more important to compete for things like brain cycles and interactive bandwidth. Crowd-dependent projects must capture the mental energy and the active effort it takes to make individual contributions to a larger whole.

But how, exactly, do you turn attention into engagement? How do you convert a member of the crowd into a member of your team? To answer these questions, innovative organizations will have to grapple with the new challenge of harnessing “participation bandwidth.” To do so, they may start to take their cues not from the world of business, but rather from the world of play. Game designers, virtual world builders, social media developers, and other “funware” creators have the potential to offer essential design strategies and economic theories for otherwise “serious” initiatives.

The Future is a High-Resolution Game. Ten Year Forecast, The Institute for the Future. (2010, PDF)

The future is a high-resolution game. Never before has humanity been able to explore the emerging landscape in such detail, to measure the forces of change at such vast scales, and to fill in the details with such fine grain. But this high-resolution grid is not complete. It challenges us to envision and build the future we want. As both gamers and creators of the game, we will fill in the grid over the coming decade.

The goals of the game are clear:

  • Happiness: What do we really want out of life?
  • Resilience: What if we could all respond better, adapt more quickly, find steadiness amidst perturbation?
  • Legacy: How can we craft a world worth leaving to the next generation—to the next hundred years of play?

The rules? These are less obvious.

Do we follow the rules of the past century: compete to grow? Or do we create new rules for a new era: seek well-being within a world of constraint, or cooperate to create a new and as yet unimagined civilization? And what happens if things go wrong, if we find ourselves face-to-face with collapse? This is a game where we, the players, choose the rules. That’s the first move, and it commits us to our path.

Increase resilience, happiness and legacy: Get more tips on how to play “Future Connect Four” from the Institute for the Future.

Superstruct Strategies. Ten Year Forecast, Institute for the Future. (2009, PDF)

From the world’s first massively multiplayer forecasting game, seven basic strategies for superstructing — a new, resilient, and highly cooperative way of organizing — have emerged.

  • Evolvability: Nurture genomic diversity and generational differences.
  • Extreme Scale: Layer micro and massive scales for rapid adaption.
  • Ambient Collaboration: Leverage stigmergy with environmental feedback.
  • Reverse Scarcity: Use renewable and diverse resources as rewards.
  • Amplified Optimism: Link amplified individuals at massive scales.
  • Adaptive Emotions: Confer evolutionary advantage with awe, appreciation, and wonder.
  • Playtests: Challenge everything and everyone in fun, fierce bursts.

“You know you’re superstructing when…” Ten Year Forecast, Institute for the Future. (2009, PDF)

SUPERSTRUCTING means reinventing our tools and processes, our organizational structures, and even our concepts of cooperation and collaboration. So how do we know when we’re on the right track? How do we know when we’ve gone beyond the best practices of contemporary organizations to superstruct our projects?

Here are five basic outcomes you can monitor as indicators that you’re on your way to the kind of reinvention necessary for success in the next decade.

“The future is our chance to be new:” Download more Superstruct research from the Institute for the Future.


The Hard Part is the Fun Part.” Convocation speech for Miami University, 2013.

Games can make a better world.” TED 2010.

The game that can add 10 years to your life.” TED 2012.


Are you game?” Foreword to Game Change. PHD Worldwide. November 1, 2013.

Be a Gamer, Save the World.” Op-Ed. Wall Street Journal. January 21, 2011.

Ideas for Modern Living: Blissful Productivity: Videogames can virtually improve your life. Op-Ed. The Observer (UK). October 17, 2010.

Making Alternate Reality the New Business Reality.” Op-Ed. Harvard Business Review. Special Issue: Top 20 Breakthrough Ideas for 2008. February 2008.

Massively Collaborative Science.Op-Ed. Seed Magazine. Special Issue: The Universe in 2008. February 2008.

Gamers have skills. Let’s tap ’em.” Op-Ed. Christian Science Monitor. November 5, 2007.

Re: My Crowd (flash mobs).” Letter to Harper’s Magazine. June 2006. (If you’re not a Harpers subscriber, you can read the full letter and additional background on why I wrote it here.)


“Why I Love Bees: A Case Study in Collective Intelligence Gaming.” Ecologies of Play. MIT Press. (2007, PDF)

Can a computer game teach collective intelligence?

The term ‘collective intelligence’, or CI for short, was originally coined by French philosopher Pierre Levy in 1994 to describe the impact of Internet technologies on the cultural production and consumption of knowledge. Levy argued that because the Internet facilitates a rapid, open and global exchange of data and ideas, over time the network should “mobilize and coordinate theintelligence, experience, skills, wisdom, and imagination of humanity” in new and unexpected ways. As part of his utopian vision for a more collaborative knowledge culture, he predicted: “We are passing from the Cartesian cogito”—I think, therefore I am—“to cogitamus”—we think, therefore we are.

But there is no guarantee that everyone with access to computer network technologies will beautomatically absorbed into this culture of collective intelligence. Indeed, in Convergence Culture, media theorist Henry Jenkins reminds us that as we embark on an age of powerful, networked collaboration, “We are just learning how to exercise that power—individually and collectively—and fighting to define the terms under which we will be allowed to participate.”

Once CI systems are in place, how do we ensure widespread entry into the collective? To engage as many and as diverse a group of people as possible in the new knowledge network, specific CI skills will need to be taught to the general population. Indeed, as CI becomes an increasingly important component of our social, political and creative lives, it seems increasingly likely that our formal education system will need to include both instruction and practice in how to construct and contribute to a collective intelligence. In our present-day society, “search and analysis” computer games, often in the form of alternate reality games, are already taking up the task of teaching young people a basic literacy in collective intelligence. This case study is an exploration of one such game.

(This research was made possible by grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in connection with its grant making initiative on Digital Media and Learning.)

“The Puppet Master Problem: Design for Real-World, Mission-Based Gaming.” Second Person. MIT Press. (2007, PDF)

Puppet masters are the first real-time, digital game designers. An invisible creative team composed of shadowy, often anonymous figures, they work behind the scenes as the writers, programmers, directors and stage managers of live pervasive gameplay. In a cross between a digital dare and street theater, puppet masters challenge gamers to take their gaming public, to create face-to-face community with other gamers, to play in environments they wouldn’t normally play, to interact with strangers they wouldn’t typically acknowledge, to make spontaneous spectacles of themselves, and to rewrite the social rules of a given space in highly visible ways.

Why would any gamer agree to be a public ‘puppet’ of an anonymous game designer? Where is the fun in such a rigid gaming structure? And furthermore, where is the propriety? To some critics, such an unbalanced power dynamic seems a bit perverse; to others, it seems downright dangerous. How do you structure a game so that you can effectively, and remotely, ‘pull the strings’ of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of players without making them feel like mere puppets? How do you develop the puppet master-player relationship into a collaborative one, and what real-time recourses do you have to actively manage that relationship? I will offer a series of critical frameworks for understanding both the pleasures of the puppet mastered experience and the real-time design strategies that support those pleasures.

“Supergaming! Ubiquitous Play and Performance for Massively Scaled Community.” Modern Drama. Special Issue on Technology. (2005, PDF)

This essay presents a design imperative for social software engineers, game developers, network designers and all the other architects of digital community: more, more, more.

Why more? “The more the better” (Andrew Fluegelman, founding member of the 1970s New Games Movement, on the optimal number of players for their patently oversized and intensely physical games). Players experience phenomenological pleasure in being part of a much larger, co-present whole.

“More is different” (P.W. Anderson, physicist, on the emergence of unpredictable atomic interaction in complex particle systems). Unexpected things happen when you scale up.

“More is needed” (Pat Miller, computer scientist, on the massive number of Central Processing Units required to construct a “do-it-yourself” supercomputer). To become exponentially more powerful, to pass the coveted threshold to “super,” you need to connect as many individual parts as possible. These three tenets comprise the more, more, massively more connectivity I dream of for network communities in today’s new-media landscape. Massively more is a vision of digital social networks designed and deployed to produce more pleasure, more emergence, and more superpower, through community formation on a massive scale.

“A Real Little Game: The Performance of Belief in Pervasive Play.” Digital Games Research Associaton (DiGRA) “Level Up” Conference Proceedings. (2003, PDF)

Ubiquitous computing and mobile network technologies have fueled a recent proliferation of opportunities for digitally-enabled play in everyday spaces.  In this paper, I examine how players negotiate the boundary between these pervasive games and real life.  I trace the emergence of what I call “the Pinocchio effect” – the desire for a game to be transformed into real life, or conversely, for everyday life to be transformed into a “real little game.”  Focusing on two examples of pervasive play – the 2001 immersive game known as the Beast, and the Go Game, an ongoing urban superhero game — I argue that gamers maximize their play experience by performing belief, rather than actually believing, in the permeability of the game-reality boundary.

“This Is Not a Game: Immersive Aesthetics & Collective Play.” Digital Arts & Culture 2003 Conference Proceedings. (2003, PDF)

The increasing convergence and mobility of digital network technologies have given rise to new, massively-scaled modes of social interaction where the physical and virtual worlds meet. This paper explores one product of these extreme networks, the emergent genre of immersive entertainment, as a potential tool for harnessing collective action. Through an analysis of the structure and rhetoric of immersive games, I explore how immersive aesthetics can generate a new sense of social agency in game players, and how collaborative play techniques can instruct real-world problem-solving.

“The High Performance Gameplay Inventory.” Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) “Changing Worlds” Conference. (2005, PDF)

All gameplay is performance, and all gamers are performers. But some gamers adopt unexpected strategies to make their gameplay more extroverted, more attention-generating, more compulsively watchable, more theatrical — in other words, more high performance. This worksheet presents six vectors for transforming ordinary digital gameplay into high performance gameplay, and proposes a high performance gameplay inventory system based on actual high performance gameplay strategies observable in contemporary digital games culture.


“Growing up Gamer: Autobiographical notes on the text and graphic adventures that shaped the way I view the world.” (2008, PDF)

I was born in 1977, the same year the original home videogame console, the Atari 2600, came out. I was right on top of the very first wave of the gamer generation. We never knew a world without computer and videogames.

My family couldn’t afford an Atari 2600. We had a used Magnavox Odyssey 2, which meant we were not as cool as some of our friends. That didn’t matter. I adored our Odyssey machine. Some of my best and earliest memories are of playing KC Munchkin, a knock-off of Pac-Man, with my dad and my twin sister in our living room. I was better than my sister, but not as good as my dad. Which always seemed to me exactly as it should be…

“All Game Play is Performance/Game Play is All Performance.” A manifesto in anticipation of delivering the keynote address for Playful: The State of the Art Game. (2005, PDF)

This manifesto argues that all game play is performance, and there is no gaming without performance. This manifesto claims all digital games in the name of theater. This manifesto contends that gamers create Gesamtkunstwerk. “Install base: Everyone. The entire public. Platform: The world. The entire electronic sphere. If we could make your toaster print something we would. Anything with an electric current running through it. A single story, a single gaming experience, with no boundaries. A game that is life itself.”

“The Curious Interface: A Design Manifesto in Favor of Play.” UbiComp 2003. Version 1.0: “A reasonable request.” (2003, PDF) OR Version 2.0: “An escalation of our demands.” (2003, PDF)

This manifesto argues that our opportunities to engage digitally are increasingly limited and pre-determined by technologies that too clearly announce their intentions and capabilities. The user who instantly understands the purpose and processes of a technology is compelled to respond in specific, directed ways. Once learned, these habits preclude user experimentation, modification and intervention. For this reason, we must insist: clarity in design is not always an advantage.  On the contrary, we call for more curious interfaces…

“PlaceStormers: A Manifesto.” Created for Intel Research. (2004, PDF). (Also, read a set of PlaceStormer Missions to be deployed in conjunction with the manifesto.)

This manifesto calls for more play, space, expression and everyday superpowers in shared, public environments.  It outlines a set of beliefs in support of its demands and suggests a series of modus operandi.


This Might Be a Game: Ubiquitous Play and Performance at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century. University of California, PhD program in performance studies. (2006, PDF)

This Might Be a Game examines the historical intersection of ubiquitous computing and experimental game design, circa 2001 AD. Ubiquitous computing, or ubicomp, is the emerging field of computer science that seeks to augment everyday objects and physical environments with invisible and networked computing functionality. Experimental game design is the field of interactive arts that seeks to discover new platforms and contexts for digital play. The convergence of these two fields has produced a significant body of games that challenge and expand our notions of where, when, and with whom we can play. This dissertation explores how and to what ends these playful projects reconfigure the technical, formal and social limits of games in relation to everyday life.

This dissertation was filed in August 2006 with the department of performance studies at the University of California at Berkeley, and is copyright of the author, Jane Evelyn McGonigal.


“Notes Toward a More Pervasive Cyberdrama.”  Electronic Book Review. June 2004. (Special issue for the MIT Press release of First Person.)

In response to essays by Janet Murray, Michael Mateas and Ken Perlin, I explore the potential for a more pervasive cyberdrama.  In this article, I ask: What could we learn about the dramatic potential of cybernetic systems, as well as the cybernetic potential of modern drama, by developing a more mobile and ubiquitious dramaturgy?

“A Lost Cause: Performance and the Free Speech Movement Digital Archive.” American Society for Theatre Research 2003 Meeting. (2003, PDF)

Is there room for dramatic improvement in the way digital archivists approach their art?  If so, how might performance intervene in the current Sisyphean struggle against digital decay?  In this paper, I take my cue from Peter Lunenfeld’s proposal in the introduction to The Digital Dialectic (1999): “”Rather than thinking of the digital media and environments mentioned herein as though they possessed the stability of painting or architecture, better to embrace their mercurial qualities and conceptualize them as being somehow evanescent, like theatrical performances or dance.”  What would happen if we treated digital archives not as attempts at a permanent cultural record that bypass the messy organic difficulties and decay of hard-copy materiality, but rather as ephemeral objects that offer up opportunities for distinctly embodied and collective experiences?  This paper addresses a range of theoretical complications that occurred when I attempted to transplant a performance studies approach to the theories and methods of archive practice.


“Questioning: a reflection on the Demonstrate project.” Written for Making Things Public, an art-technology exhibition at ZKM Karslruhe (March 2005) and featured in the Whitney Museum online gallery. Collaborators on the Demonstrate project and exhibition: Ken Goldberg, Dezhen Song, Andrew Dahl, Jeremy Schiff, Irene Chien, Jane McGonigal and Kris Paulsen. (2005, PDF)

This reflection on the Demonstrate project, a public and collaboratively-controlled state-of-the-art robotic web camera installed in historic Sproul Plaza, features a selection of user-generated questions, taken directly from the captions of user photos and from the user comments that appear below photos in the Demonstrate archive. They have not been edited, and they appear in the same chronological order in which they were originally asked. Together, these “found questions” are intended to evoke the sense of playful inquiry, practical curiosity, political engagement, sense of audience, and self-reflexivity that developed within the Demonstrate community. Their unfolding over time captures the shifting dynamics that emerged among users, and between the watchers and the watched.

“Place Storming: Performing New Technologies in Context.” Ken Anderson, Intel Research, and Jane McGonigal, University of California at Berkeley. Proceedings for the 3rd annual Nordic Conference on Computer Human Interface (NordCHI 04). (2004, PDF)

We present Place Storming, an original method of brainstorming technological concepts, particularly in the area of pervasive computing. Place Storming is context-driven and play-based, combining real world environments with the immersive and performative aspects of gaming. In this paper, we discuss the background and techniques we used to create and deploy our method. Examples are drawn from a March 2004 Place Storming event to highlight key strengths of the method. Suggestions are made for what produces successful Place Storming sessions.

“Unsupervised Scoring for Scalable Internet-Based Collaborative Teleoperation.” Ken Goldberg, Dezhen Song, In Yong Song, Jane McGonigal, Wei Zheng, UC Berkeley, and Dana Plautz, Intel Corporation. Conference proceedings of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), April 2004 (PDF).

Our group is studying the potential for scalable Internet-based Collaborative (multi-operator single robot) Teleoperation, where many users simultaneously share control using browser-based point-and-click interfaces.  In this paper we describe our “unsupervised scoring” system for individual assessment within a collaborative activity.  We explore how unsupervised scoring can be used to increase incentive for active and effective interaction and how user performance can be numerically reprsented based on cluster organization, frequency of interaction and response time.

(Fun fact: This is the paper that earned me an Erdos number of 3!)

View the slide decks from some of my previous talks.

Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute the  articles, essays and media on this page for educational purposes only. All other rights are reserved by the author and/or the publishing institution.

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