Jane McGonigal on How Games are Changing the World

CTU Presents Jane McGonigalIf you’ve spent countless hours playing Words With Friends or Candy Crush Saga, you just might be a gamer. The term ‘gamer’ can carry a stigma, leaving some to assume that players are idle or lazy. Think again. With new research from Jane McGonigal, games could be the key to changing our lives and inspiring hope for individuals.

In Jane’s CTU Presents talk, she discussed information that might cause you to drop those preconceived notions. In fact, you might actually wield the title “gamer” with a sense of pride when you discover how McGonigal’s research led her to the hypothesis that gaming can create a sense of hope and empowerment.

The opposite of play isn’t work. It’s depression.”

During the talk, McGonigal quoted play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith as she introduced the 10 positive emotions that gaming produces. According to McGonigal’s research, individuals who are engaged in gaming exhibit higher levels of positive emotion, and this heightened state of positivity can be leveraged to develop “super-empowered hopeful individuals.”

In the workplace, empowered individuals are engaged employees, which is something organizations need. The 87% of workers who are disengaged cost trillions of dollars in lost productivity globally.

When applied to health care, gaming can create behavioral changes that lead to better patient follow-through on treatment plans. McGonigal shared a gaming project by the HopeLab, called ReMission, that mimics the inside of a human body fighting cancer cells. The game is used to combat the challenges patients had in adhering to their treatment plan, which is necessary to manage or eliminate the disease. Patients who played the ReMission game during treatment felt more in control of their disease, adhered more closely to the plan, and felt more optimistic.

The Brain Just Lights Up

The physical expressions of people playing games gives an immediate sense of the 10 positive emotions McGonigal speaks to. But to fully understand how gaming produces empowerment, you must explore the inner workings of the brain. Based on her in-depth research, McGonigal described two areas of the brain that “light up” when a person is actively engaged in gaming:

  • Caudate and Thalamus is known as the reward part of the brain that is driven by motivation and goals. This area of the brain also contributes to addiction behavior.
  • Hippocampus is responsible for learning and memory. This area of the brain is like a memory indexer and also stores emotional responses.

McGonigal notes that in order for the brain to respond to gaming, the individual must actually be playing the game – just observing isn’t enough. McGonigal shared a practical application of this research when used on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When individuals who witnessed a traumatic event played Tetris for 10 minutes afterward, the formation of visual memories that lead to PTSD were inhibited.

Ultimately, McGonigal believes that tapping into the game state can not only develop empowered, hopeful individuals – it can also help solve real-world problems.

With results like this, would you rethink your perception of gamers?

Image credit: CTU