Jane McGonigal: Gaming for a Better Future

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Mark speaks with Jane McGonigal, game designer and author of the new book, Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything, Even Things that Seem Impossible Today. After she created a game to help herself recover from a debilitating concussion in 2009, Jane was inspired to build a more positive and collaborative world through the use of modern technology. Jane believes that games can generate a higher collective intelligence that can be put toward a better quality of human life.
Today, Commander Divine speaks with Jane McGonigal, game designer and author of the new book, Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything, Even Things that Seem Impossible Today.Throughout all her work, Jane advocates for the use of modern technology to create a more positive and collaborative world. In this episode, Jane and Mark discuss how to translate gaming skills into real life, how games can help us prepare for the future in an uncertain world, the importance of imagining positive future scenarios, and more.
Key Takeaways:

  • Translate gaming into real life. To maximize the positive skills learned from gaming, the critical questions to ask yourself (or your kids) is this: “What have you gotten better at since you started playing this game?” If the gamer can answer this question, they’ll have a much better chance that the game will produce a positive impact on their identity in the real world (vs. a pathological gaming addiction or means of escapism).
  • Don’t spend all your time playing one game. Jane suggests exposing yourself to new games so you’re always growing. In fact, in aging seniors, there's less risk of cognitive decline and fewer symptoms of dementia for people who expose themselves to games that they've never played before.
  • Gamers adapt better to change. fMRI studies show that gamers are able to process, make sense of, and respond effectively to multiple streams of information much faster. Their brains are already coming up with new strategies before they have conscious recognition that something has changed, which is a crucial skill to develop for the fast-paced VUCA world.
  • Playing games can help people prepare for the future. Back in 2010, Jane ran a future simulation game asking people to imagine their response to a pandemic set 10 years in the future. When she followed up with the simulation participants after the 2020 pandemic, they reported feeling less anxious, less shocked, and that they noticed and responded to the chain of events faster. This demonstrated that thinking through distressing future scenarios actually helps people come out on the other side with confidence, clarity, and an action plan for how to proceed.
  • Become an urgent optimist. If you’d like to try a future scenario exercise for yourself, you can work through the scenarios in Jane’s new book, Imaginable, either online or in a journal. Jane recommends to spend 10 days with each scenario and to try to find at least one other person to trade notes with so you can learn from what they say and how they would react, too. You can also play online at urgentoptimists.com with thousands of other people from around the world; it’s always beneficial to learn from people from different countries and communities.
  • We need more success story scenarios. With the help of games, we can imagine large-scale systemic, societal change that will actually allow us to wake up in a world that we're happy to be in. Jane thinks we've had too many dystopian future narratives – we need...

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