Review: Reality Is Broken–Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

6 Star Top 10%, Asymmetric, Cyber, Hacking, Odd War, Best Practices in Management, Budget Process & Politics, Change & Innovation, Complexity & Resilience, Culture, Research, Decision-Making & Decision-Support, Democracy, Diplomacy, Economics, Education (General), Education (Universities), Environment (Solutions), Future, Games, Models, & Simulations, Information Operations, Information Society, Intelligence (Public), Intelligence (Wealth of Networks), Nature, Diet, Memetics, Design, Politics, Priorities, Public Administration, Stabilization & Reconstruction, Survival & Sustainment, Technology (Bio-Mimicry, Clean), True Cost & Toxicity, Truth & Reconciliation, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized), Water, Energy, Oil, Scarcity
Amazon Page

Jane McGonigal

5.0 out of 5 stars 6 Star for Concept–Ignores Past Pioneers–Energizes Us All

February 28, 2011

I took the time to read all of the reviews to date, and was reminded again of the chasm between those who understand technology and its possibilities, and those who do not. Being among the latter, in part because I am a veteran of 30 years of watching the US Government waste trillions over that period on too much badly designed technology (government specifications, cost plus) for the wrong reasons and generally without a positive outcome [the Internet being an exception], I must respect–as the author respects with her obviously counter-ripostive editorial interview here at Amazon–both the importance of getting a grip on reality, and the importance of being more respectful of past pioneers, such Buckminster Fuller (RIP) and Medard Gabel (co-creator with Fuller of the analog World Game, creator of the architecture for the digital EarthGame(TM), and recent contributing editor to Designing a World That Works for All: How the Youth of the World are Creating Real-World Solutions for the UN Millenium Development Goals and Beyond (Volume 1), and Russell Ackoff [e.g. Redesigning Society (Stanford Business Books) as well as John N. Warfield [e.g Societal Systems: Planning, Policy and Complexity (Wiley Series on Systems Engineering & Analysis). And then there are the 55 authors in Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace, including Ms. Jan Watkins, Doug Englebart, Mark Tovey. In short, the WORST thing one can say about this book is that the author has had an immaculate conception to her great credit, but one that could have been vastly better grounded had she done her homework and a multi-disciplinary literature review, something her PhD committee evidently did not consider necessary.

Having said that, this book is without question a 6+, a ranking achieved by the top 10% of the non-fiction books and DVDs I have reviewed here at Amazon (1692 not counting this one). This is a world-changing book, and while the author has benefited from a fabulous personality and personal presence, and first rate representation and promotion, when read carefully and completely and placed in the context of all that is about us today, the originality, relevance, and imminent potential of this book and the ideas in this book cannot be denied. The author does not do what Medard Gabel has done–provide the architectural underpinings for the digital EarthGame(TM) and global to local holistic “dashboards” that integrate the ten high-level threats to humanity, the twelve core policies, the true costs of every good and service–she is still at the “one of” level rather than the meta level–but if she can reach out to Medard Gabel and others and actually harness not just the cognitive surplus of the crowds, but the contextual pioneering of those who have spent decades before her thinking and doing in this arena, then she will be the righteous public face of what I am starting to call “Open Everything: from Autonomous Internet to Global Panarchy.”


Unlike most reviews, I want to put some other books up front as a foundation for my detailed summary of this book and why I consider it so important–a 6+ book. At Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog I also recommend my two lists of lists under the Reviews heading, on positive books (civilization building etc) and negative books (what we are doing wrong now, most for lack of integrity at all levels).

The Hidden Wealth of Nations
The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Revised and Updated 5th Anniversary Edition: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits
Tools for Thought: The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology
Virtual Reality: The Revolutionary Technology of Computer-Generated Artificial Worlds – and How It Promises to Transform Society
Ecological Economics: Principles And Applications
Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure

Note: Amazon has a ten link limit. At the Phi Beta Iota version of this review all links are active.


+ Games as happiness agents building communities–provide the panarchic access to shared information that allows cognitive surplus to be voluntarily obligated, creating intangible value at all levels across all domains.

+ Focus is on crowd-sourcing, not on assuring a grasp of all relevant facts, most not known to the crowds, who suffer from the institutionalized data pathologies and information asymmetries favored by the elite that has looted the Industrial Era.

+ FACT: Cognitive Surplus–with a tip of the hat to Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age–has migrated to the digital world. This is only true within the one billion rich, not the five billion poor, and this one reason I end this review with an outline of what I hope will be a fact-based, future-systems architecture follow-on book. The author DOES note that the 3 billion to 5 billion not connected are a future challenge.

+ FLAW: The author overlooks the FACT that pornography not sense-making, is the bulk of the digital world (see The Myth of Digital Democracy

+ OPINION: This book is an indictment of industrial-era institutionalized ineptitude and corruption. Top down “command and control” failed to work, in my view, because corruption quickly set in, and rule by secrecy is an enabler of massive corruption. Early quotes:

I have early note at this point: gifted turns of phrase; great notes; harvest appendix; a classic endeavor.

+ QUOTE: [13] “Games, in the twenty-first century, will be a primary platform for enabling the future..”

I find the author strongest on her descriptions of what makes games work (including feed back and voluntary choices) and on the value of games as a means of delivering visual, qualitative, and quantitative information. She is not yet focused on the hard part–global data entry of true costs of every product and service–but this is a great start.

HOLY COW: 50 billion hours on Warcraft is same amount of time as human evolution to date. This is an *amazing* fact from the author.

TITILLATING: ChoreWars for kids–and husbands.

QUOTE: [120] “And it just so happens that ridding our real-world kingdom of toilet stains is worth more experience points, or XP, than any other chore in the land of the 41st Floor Ninjas, which is what we've dubbed our apartment in the game.”

Education should be a game. Totally agree. See also (also a 6+) The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

The book is strongest on the vital nature of the meaning that is restored and imparted via games, reversing the anomie and commoditization of the human characteristic of the Industrial Era. Indeed, this book is the first book to help me really see how the information era (games) can impact on the real world of work, beyond training, to performance, culture, team work, agile resilience, etc.

I totally love and admire the concept of mentoring others instead of rote testing, as a means of certifying knowledge learned.

Three approaches to alternate reality include life management, organizations, and concepts. New Game Movement of the 1970's and onward focuses on no one sits it out, and goal is not beating anyone, but rather playing longer and harder than other TEAMS.

INSIGHT: GPS, motion sensors, biometric devices all expand range of rewardable behavior both personal and group. [While I get an Orwellian chill here, the technical point is important.]

A very important small section of the book focuses on games as a means of restoring community and particularly assimilating strangers and restoring connections between young and old.

INSIGHT: [186] Self-help industry isolates the individual, turns people inwards, and does not foster community and mutual aid.

Happiness hacks are alone worth the price and time for the book.

PART III is the Master's Class. It focuses on the engagement economy, to include leveraging crowd-sourcing, citizen investigative journalism. In one instance 20,000 volunteers examined 170,000 electronic documents.

Wikipedia sets a standard of 100 million hours or what a million people each working 100 hours can do. Goal should be, the author suggests, one Wikipedia in applied collective intelligence effort each day. I think this is seriously righteous!

I learn that gaming consules are far more powerful and versatile that laptop or desktop computers, and that their shared processing power is a substantial untapped global resource.

LACKING TODAY, the author observes on page 249, is creative and logistical support to harness gamers toward all epic challenges (I would define those as the eradication of the ten high level threats to humanity identified in A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility–Report of the Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change by harmonizing all human spending and time energy effort across the twelve core policies.

The book winds down discussion collaboration superpowers, the importance of podcasts in multiple languages, superempowered hopeful individuals as an antidote to superempowered angry men, examples of the ideas that emerge from crowd-sourcing, and a final discussion of how games lead to real happiness, real change, and a better reality.

QUOTES are going into a table that I will add to the Phi Beta Iota version of this review. This book is a treasure, a cornerstone brick in transitioning from the Industrial Era rule by secrecy to the Information Era of autonomous Internet and global to local panarchy.

The follow on book will, I hope, properly integrate the three levels of the emergent Autonomous [Free, Distributed] Internet:

1. Simple cell phone for each person, i.e. we cannot do the EarthGame(TM) without EVERYONE being connected.
2. Global network of volunteers and subsidized desktop computing support specialists, able to both intake early warning from everyone (much as Taiwan now rewards citizens for sending in photos with time and place stamps of corporate pollution as it occurs) and also to educate the 5 billion poor “one cell call at a time,” and finally
3. Regional multinational decision support centers with massive back office processing for receiving SMS, for real-time twitter and facebook (or whatever supplants them) on all threats, policies, budgets, and behaviors) and for populating the Global to Local Range of Gifts Table that is the near-term foundation for the future: who needs what now, at the micro-level–connecting the one billion rich (80% of whom do not give to charity today) with the five billion poor, and eliminating the corrupt intermediaries that steal or mis-spend 80% of what is donated–in Haiti today, still, less than 2% of the donated money has been obligated locally. Katrina was the same scam.


Vote and/or Comment on Review

Table of Quotes [to be added tonight]

See Also:

To Be Added Tonight

Financial Liberty at Risk-728x90