Girl Gamer Jane McGonigal’s Strategy to Change the World
There are one billion gamers throughout the world. Whether playing on their phone, TV, computer, or in real life, gamers are everywhere. Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, is an expert in and creator of alternate reality games, in which your virtual world gaming can apply to reality. McGonigal plays on the collaborative aspect of games to work to solve such issues as hunger and poverty—a game presents players with an issue, and the players implement ways to solve it.
Teen Voices spoke with McGonigal at the Simmons Leadership Conference on April 5, about how her video games are different than the ones most of us are used to, and how we can all take part in changing the world by playing them.
Teen Voices (TV): You design alternate reality games. Could you tell our what these games are?
Jane McGonigal (JM): Mostly we think of video games as something we do just for fun. An alternate reality game is a game that we play for fun, while also trying to help solve a real-world problem or to make our lives better. The games are alternate because you’re going back and forth between reality and virtual world, so you could play an alternate reality game that could help you achieve a real-life goal such as getting in shape, fighting an illness, or doing chores around your house with your family so you don’t fight all the time…Or you could play an alternate reality game to solve a really big global problem, such as fighting against cancer or protecting endangered species.
TV: How would you say that alternate reality games differ from traditional video games?
JM: They have a real goal, not just a fictional goal. Also, there tends to be a lot more social media involved with alternate reality games because often times, you have to prove that you did something in reality. You might do so by taking a photo, making a video, or checking in with a GPS on your phone. Some games use accelerometers to prove that you’re actually moving. I use Nike+ when I run, which is basically an alternate reality game that turns your five-mile run into a game. The games draw on reality.
TV: In the more traditional and more popular games that teens generally play, stereotypes are usually reinforced and violence is the norm. Has this changed over the years?
JM: The good news about traditional gaming is that if you look at the top 20 games for the last year, only a couple of them are what most people would consider “violent games” that demonstrate the stereotypes. The other top games are dancing games, farming games, and fantasy and puzzle and sports games. We really shouldn’t allow the stereotype [of violence] to bias us.
JM: When I would talk to my friends who were playing games, or other gamers, they expressed that there was a gap between the game and their real lives. In the game, they were developing all of these skills and abilities, but there wasn’t a chance to use those skills in real life, which is what they wanted to do. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could make games that would allow us to not only save the virtual world, but to save the real world too?”
TV: Do you implement specific designs, characters, or goals in the games?
JM: I always design cooperative games instead of competitive games; it’s almost always everybody wins or we all fail together. For example, I created a game for the 100-year anniversary of the New York Public Library, and the goal was for the team to write a book. Everybody either wrote a book together or the book didn’t get written. To me, it’s really important that you can all win together.
TV: How are the women in your games portrayed differently than in other games, in which women are often hyper-sexualized?
JM: In a game that I made with the World Bank Institute called Evoke, our two female lead characters are very different from how you normally see females portrayed in games. They’re superheroes who travel around the world helping solve crises like famine or disease outbreaks. One of the characters has a boyfriend whose family doesn’t support the fact that she has a career. The character is South African, and it is not the norm for the character to have such an nontraditional career. The struggle she faces is part of the plot and action of the game. So I do try to work in stories and narratives of issues that real women and girls face.
TV: You want to change the world through games. How do you plan to do this and how can girls join the effort?
JM: It needs to be said that although 40 percent of gamers are women, only 9 percent of them are working to make games—there’s a huge gap to fill. There’s a great online network for girls to get involved in, such as Games for Change. There’s also Game Jam, where once a year people can learn to make games and work on game teams. Game Jam happens every January and “Jam sites” are all over the world, so that’s a good thing to look for.
For more information on Jane McGonigal and her games, visit: www.janemcgonigal.com
Also, for those of you who are Xbox gamers, follow Jane through her gamertag: punkymcmonsef
For more information on Game Jam and its 240 locations, see: www.globalgamejam.org
For more on alternate reality gaming, check out the Alternate Reality Gaming Network at: www.argn.com, as well as www.unfiction.com
Stay tuned for our upcoming article on Digital Vixens.
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