Friday, July 15, 2011

Jane McGonigal

We have a lot of old issues of Time and Smithsonian in our bathroom. I was looking through an old Smithsonian for something to read yesterday, and I came across an article about Jane McGonigal, a game designer who makes games with the expressed intent of improving people's lives and making them smarter. I didn't read the whole article, because I didn't have to spend that much time in the bathroom, but first and foremost, let's reflect on what a huge undertaking that is. After I read the first part of that article, I immediately went to my computer and started playing Postal 2. The premise of Postal 2 is to put the player through a series of tedious tasks that will encourage her to eventually start killing people for fun. This is the sort of thing McGonigal is up against. Educational games have rarely stood up to their non-educational competitors. Oregon Trail is probably the most popular educational game of all time, and the only real fun part of that game was hunting, which was decidedly the least educational aspect. How many times have you been hunting in Oregon Trail and decided to stop after you shot 200 pounds of meat, since you couldn't carry any more back to the wagon? I'm thinking never.
Also, at my elementary school we didn't have enough computers for every student to have one, so we doubled up on computers. When we were playing Oregon Trail, my computer partner was Travis Leech. We decided that I get the keyboard and he get the mouse. It seemed like a pretty egalitarian decision, except what that meant, as it turned out, was that he got to do all the hunting, and I got to type in how many wagon axles to purchase. Oh boy!
Also, at the last LAN party I went to, I got all kinds of hammered, and butted into someone else who was playing, and tried to do a similar thing, where I had the keyboard and he had the mouse. I told him that we would play a lot better because two heads were better than one. My memory of our playing is foggy, but I'm pretty sure we kicked major ass. We were playing Half Life 2 Deathmatch, I think.

Women who are into video games is another aspect of Jane McGonigal's interview that I find sort of curious. I was really into computer games in high school, and at the time, there were few boys and fewer girls who were into computer games. After high school, I started to develop a stimulating social life, and I dropped video games in a big way. Apparently, at some point after this, women began playing video games much more than before. A friend told me it was the introduction of World of Warcraft that brought this on. I've never played World of Warcraft, and nothing about the premise has ever made it sound appealing to me. At any rate, if girls are into video games now, this is a dramatic and perplexing change to the subject matter that men and women can have in common. This is actually something that's been my undoing at times, because I still am not that into video games. Sure, they're a great way to waste time and it's something to do when you're listening to music on your computer, but beyond that, I'm not passionate about video games. I've literally had women try to talk to me about video games and I've been at a loss on numerous occasions. So now I'm getting passed up by women because I don't have enough video game experience. Wow. I'm not saying 'wow' like the abbreviation for 'World of Warcraft.' I'm saying 'Wow' like 'Wow, that's fucking weird.'
Jane McGonigal should produce a game that helps me to know more about video games for when I have to talk to women about them.

Also, my high school chemistry teacher was named Mr. McGonigal. I wonder if they're related.


  1. I really want to read her book Reality is Broken.