Stockholm Waterfront 25-26 november 2019

Interview with keynote speaker Jane McGonigal

As the world is full of problems, there is a huge need for problem solvers. Jane McGonigal, researcher and game developer from the US, claims to have found a group of problem solvers: the gamers.

Gamers are constantly solving problems, she says, and they are intensely engaged in it. Moreover, they often work in teams and they have fun while doing it – just the attitude that is needed in the 21st century.

Jane McGonigal will hold a keynote at the Internet Days on November 26, on “The engagement economy” as she calls it.

– The world spends 7 billion hours a week playing videogames – the equivalent of 10,000 lifetimes. Are these wasted lives? No! Games are in fact a powerful platform for developing collaboration superpowers, and for leading longer, happier and healthier lives

She intends to share cutting-edge scientific research on the psychology of games and demonstrate how gamers are using their superpowers to help to solve some of the world’s toughest problems, from curing diseases to ending hunger.

– Gaming is on the rise, without a doubt. There are more than 1 billion people who play on average an hour a day on a connected device – a PC, a phone, a tablet, a console. In the developing world, gameplay is almost synonymous with Internet usage.

• “Gamification” has become a popular buzzword, but I notice that you avoid that term in your bio. Why?

– I don’t use the term gamification because I create games. Actual games! Yes, they are games that strive to have a real-world impact. But they’re not just “game mechanics” or “game elements”. When I make a game, I have to deliver something that has emotional power and artistic integrity, not just the bells and whistles of points, levels, or achievement badges.

– I believe that to sustainably harness the power of games, we need to create bigger and better games, not strip games of their mechanical elements and then jam those elements into school, work, or government – and that’s exactly what “gamification” too often feels like.

• In terms of gamer spirit and engagement, do you see any difference between quick, casual games like Angry Birds and more immersive ones like World of Warcraft?

– Different games serve different purposes. A game like Tetris or Angry Birds or Candy Crush Saga may seem more “casual” because it is less immersive in terms of graphics and narrative — but our relationship to these games can be just as intense. That’s because the true measure of gamer spirit and engagement has to do with the challenge of the game and its ability to frustrate us and force us to learn, try harder, and get better without giving up.

– Casual games today are at the leading edge of designing for this kind of challenging play. The truth is, we want to be frustrated — we want games to be hard for us. That’s where all the benefits come from — the fun, the emotional and mental resilience we build.

– Over the next decade, I would have to say that so-called casual games will be at least as important as MMOs (“Massively Multiplayer Online”) to building real-world strengths and having a real-life positive impact.

To illustrate her ideas, Jane McGonigal designs what she calls “alternate reality games”, where a real-life activity is re-framed as a game. Her best-known project is SuperBetter (LINK: superbetter.com), a mobile app and web-based game that she built while recovering from a severe concussion. The game is designed to help individuals challenge personal health challenges and get support from their “allies” — real-life friends and family.

According to Jane McGonigal, more than 250 000 people have played SuperBetter.

– I am collaborating with two universities – the Medical Research Center at Ohio State University and the psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania – on clinical trials and randomized controlled studies of SuperBetter. Pennsylvania recently completed a trial, for example, that showed players with depression were able to eliminate six symptoms of depression from their lives by playing the game for six weeks. Ohio is looking at the ability of the game to help with traumatic brain injury recovery.

Jane McGonigal has received several awards for her presentations and been featured as a “Young Global Leader” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2012. She has appeared on the prestigious TED conferences, and her chief mission in life is to see a game developer win a Nobel Prize.

JANE MCGONIGAL

Keynote: 26 November, 9.00

Topic: The engagement economy

Web: janemcgonigal.com

Work: game researcher and designer, works with the Institute For the Future (iftf.org)

Book: Reality is broken