Even as interactive entertainment continues to proliferate throughout mainstream society, video games and people who play them still get a bad rap, according to author and futurist Jane McGonigal, who spoke at the 2011 DICE Summit in Las Vegas on Friday.
Games are a powerful medium that can change society, and game designers need to recognize this more, she said. Gamers are not lazy, and when they're playing video games, they're actually experiencing a wide range of positive side effects such as increased confidence, motivation and positive stress, McGonigal said.
"Games are the single most productive thing we can do with our time ... [they] give us the power to change the world," she said.
McGonigal, who's director of game research and development at the Institute for the Future, wrote the book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. She also spoke at the non-profit TED conference
last year about video games and positive change.
She said she wants to "reverse the common misconception that games are a waste of time. ... This is one of the biggest obstacles for industry growth," she said.
McGonigal offered examples of research that showed positive side effects of gaming, such as a lessening of post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers, increased interest in playing real musical instruments after playing games like Rock Band
, and a sustained boost in real-life confidence after successful virtual conquests.
"Feeling good in a game does transfer to real life. ... It's not a crazy idea," she said. "Games are changing the way we think and how we spend our real lives." McGonigal also argued against the common notion that games are about escapism. "I think this is a very dangerous idea. ... We are powering up our real lives when we play them," not escaping.
McGonigal, who recently announced that she signed on
with the new game studio Social Chocolate, said people are spending 3 billion hours a week playing games. She wants to up that to 21 billion hours by the end of the decade.
Gamers experience "a state of positive stress," when they play, she said. "When we are in a state of eustress, people like us more - we're more likable because we have this energy and this optimism. ... This is an extraordinary state of mind to be in."
"The positive emotions that we get from games are spilling over into real life," she added. "Our games are like the radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker. They're giving people new powers." Games, she said, have the ability to provide positive emotion, strong relationships, meaning and a sense of accomplishment.
While games are a powerful medium that, according to McGonigal, have striking positive side effects on players that spill over into real life, there is still a lot that game designers must do if games are to make sweeping changes to the real world.
"We're doing a horrible job of putting meaning into games," she said. "I hope we're taking a look at how we can change [gamers'] real lives as well. ... We have to bring our gamer selves into the real world."