Reality is Boring

Gamers really are a defensive lot. This is not unlike my previous life in which I spent a whole lot of energy explaining and defending remixing and sampling.

Reality Is Broken is the career premise, website, and bestselling book by Jane McGonigal. She’s become the latest gamolographer* that is riding the Csikszentmehalyi coat-tails along with Raph Koster, Scott Rogers, Jesse Schell and just about everybody else in the field that looks to Flow to explain (and justify) a gamer’s intensity about gameplay.

The idea is pretty simple and McGonigal just happens to be saying it the loudest and clearest: compared to gaming, “real life” is freaking boring. She uses the term “broken” perhaps because that sounds more like a situation an engineer can fix as opposed to, say, boring. Actually, I just made that part up. The truth is, the word “boring” has significance in Flow terminology where the idea is to keep your attention between the boundaries of boring (too easy) and frustrating (too hard.)

So it’s something like: why can’t the world be more like gaming? No, seriously. Why can’t bosses and politicians make the world a more challenging set of well-defined tasks with loud and constant feedback as to how I’m doing, all dynamically tuned to be just above my current skill set so that I’m not bored or frustrated and everything is set up for me to be in Flow, all the damn day. The world is broken – fix it!

I like McGonigal. I think she’s really smart and her street game cruel 2 b kind is not only one the coolest things I’ve ever heard of, it almost has all the broader serious significance she would like it have.

The only quibble I have with her book and ideas is she is putting the onus on the grown ups to put us into just the right quadrant of the Flow diagrams when even Csikszentmehalyi suggests it’s up to the assembly line worker to make her job as mentally challenging as possible. (Not to get all Godwin but he even suggests that Nazi concentration camp prisoners could invent mental exercises that approximate the detachment induced by Flow.)

Flow is work. That video games make the work fun and sexy is groovy but the initial impetus to get into some discipline and then stick with it, long enough to generate Flow is going to be a drag. A boring and frustrating (i.e. broken) drag. Ever do diatonic scales to a metronome? How about Couch to 5K? That shit sucks – until it doesn’t. Until it generates the most peaceful, ordered state of mind humans can hope for.

Gaming is great. Life is great. No reason to pit one against the other.

*a term I just coined for professional game designers with an eye toward the psycho-punditry behind gaming

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