Jane McGonigal re-visited: Games Change the World

There are many wicked ways to describe Jane McGonigal : Smart, optimistic ARG & MPG designer & researcher who turned into slayer-player “Jane the Concussion Slayer” a.k.a conquerer of physical trauma, bearer of innovation and witty world-changing wonder woman. That should give you some ‘pause’ for thought…

Newbie at this? Don’t sweat it, this gal is bringing freshness to the gaming table. Step into the MUD and let’s talk Jane — erh — game!


Jane McGonigal is a well-known preacher for pervasive games that are designed to have a positive impact on the real world. She specializes in games that challenge players to tackle real-world problems, poverty, hunger and climate change, through planetary-scale collaboration. One example is I Love Bees, the Halo 2 promotion, developed by 42 Entertainment. It challenged players around the world to work together and solve problems. It literally pushed people out of their couches/desk chairs/dungeons, go outside and pick up public phones to play! No wonder it received 2 awards!

With a Ba in English and a PhD in Performance Studies, this coolio creator has taught game design and game theory at the San Francisco Art Institute and the University of California, Berkeley and is Director of Game Research and Development at the Institute for the Future. She wrote a book “Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World” in which her Buddhist inspired ideas are related to ending world suffering. All this innovative niceness put together in a 33-year old herald angel with a desire to inspire on a quest for change.


In this case, a gamer battles mild traumatic brain injuries, or MTBI’s. Jane suffered from a mild brain trauma that turned out to be a huge challenge. It affected her sleep and eating pattern, social life and even her lust for life. She tried doctors and rest, but nothing helped. Instead of sitting around and waiting for it to go away, she decided to slay that demon as Jane the Concussion Slayer and designed SuperBetter! She assigned her own Willow and Xander and put her vampires, zombies and werewolves back in their graves. She’s also involved as creative director in a company called Social Chocolate. They create super social games that stimulate positive emotions and fortify social relationships.


Jane has become particularly interested in how the collective consciousness generated through online gaming can be used to improve the world. An example is “World Without Oil” (2007), a simulation designed to brainstorm about a post-peak oil future. The challenge is to live real life as if you’ve run out of oil, challenge yourself and see how you would survive. The beauty about is that, if you would put the tips and tricks you learn by playing the game, into practice, you would actually have a change at making a real change. Another example is “Evoke”, a game designed in collaboration with the World Bank Institute. After completing the game, you receive a World Bank Institute Certificate as a Social Innovator. You develop and improve your skills in local insight, networking and sustainability. Jane is urging everyone to share this game with anyone in the world, especially young people in developing countries, who might benefit from working together and starting their own social initiatives locally.

So, play to make a change, I’m game, are you?

You don’t know how to battle social issues, hunger or climate change? You think, “ I’m just a kid, or, I don’t have any specific skills other than my well-trained thumbs due to hours spent with my PS Portable or XBox Controller. Let me tell you, young Paduan, you have much more XP than that. Did you know that in the US more than 174 million people are gamers and will spend 10 000 hours gaming by the time they are 21? Can you imagine how much gaming hours that is on a global level?

Jane realized the 10 000 hrs of gaming is an interesting number because children in the US spend about 10 080 hrs in school from the 5th grade until graduation. If we would spend 10 000 hrs of studying anything at all, we would be experts by the time we are 21!

Anyway, online MPG games don’t only create a collective intelligence, it leads to superstructing, meaning we reinvent our tools, organizational structures and concepts of collaboration and cooperation. Add unbreakable optimism, the ability to build stronger social relationships, the belief that we can obtain success and you’ve got yourself a nice set of superpowers to battle anything you want, to play any game you want, but most importantly, to make any future you want.

And that’s what gamers did in “Superstruct”, one of the most amazing online games ever played. Facing a world in crisis, 8,000 online gamers developed responses to superthreats to humankind.

World Without Oil” and “Urgent Evoke” showed that online games serve well as simulations of real world events. They can be a great tool to serve learning activities in schools. Here’s how to play it.


To say it in Jane’s own words in one of her TED Talks: “I’m Jane McGonigal. I’m a game designer. I’ve been making games online now for 10 years. And my goal for the next decade is to try to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online games. Now, I have a plan for this and it entails convincing more people, including all of you, to spend more time playing bigger and better games”.

The look of an epic win

Gamers know that look and that classic gaming emotion. It’s a sense of urgency, a little bit of fear but mostly intense concentration and deep focus on tackling a really difficult problem. The anticipation of being on the verge of an epic win, an outcome so extraordinarily positive, you had no idea it was even possible until you achieved it. The shock when you discover what you are capable of.
That is the look Jane wants to see on the faces of millions of problem-solvers around the world. The face of someone that — against all odds — is on the verge of an epic win.

We have to realise we are as good in reality as we are in games. We can dare to change the world with the same kind of unlimited imagination and courage that we have in parallel online Universes.

So let the games begin! Jane is waiting for you to use those muscled thumbs and massive monster brains to play for change. The world needs an epic win.

Originally published at www.global1.youth-leader.org in 2011.

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