You Can Make the Leap from Games to Gameful, in Super Better


McGonigal, Jane. “You Can Make the Leap from Games to Gameful.” Super Better: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient⎯Powered by the Science of Games. Toronto: Penguin, 2015. 104-29. Print.

The transition from just playing games to playing games mindfully is an essential aspect of accessing the benefits of gamefulness. McGonigal argues that a gamer should play with purpose, rather than with the escapist attitude that is most often adopted by gamers. Escapism encourages players to escape their daily life and its problems, thus convincing them to believe that their problem solving skills are insufficient for dealing with life’s difficulties. To play with purpose, instead, is to identify a game’s benefits (i.e. team building) and find this benefit’s purpose in a real-life situation (i.e. working collaboratively on a shared project at work). The method to accessing the benefits of game playing, or being gameful, is the application of these virtually accessed skills in a real-life setting. McGonigal discusses the health paradox for gamers: self-suppressive gamers, those who avoid their issues by gaming, are often physically and mentally unwell, suffering from depression, social isolation, anxiety, and a host of other issues; self-expansive gamers, those who apply virtually learned skills in real life settings, excel in terms of their happiness, health, and test scores. Studies show that both are possible consequences of game playing, and both are valid. The difference is purpose in playing, or the why. To rely on games to distract from problems, rather than to inform a problem and present a solution, is defeatist. A “purposeful play,” instead, works against this instinct to distract. Gamers seek out benefits, such as education, exploration, creativity, relaxation, and can consequently “activate [their] gameful skills in real-world contexts” (106).

Those who play games (or practice hobbies) with purpose are better able to access and apply its benefits, and thus are more likely to find growth and improvement in everyday challenges. Playing with purpose builds self-efficacy. The self-suppressive gamer, on the other hand, who avoids problems in reality by retreating to the virtual “diminishes [his or her] own capacity to solve problems and improve [his or her life]” (108). Escapism is a common psychological coping mechanism, much like “experiential avoidance,” which is an unwillingness to accept or directly deal with distressing thoughts or emotions, coupled with attempts to escape or avoid anything that might trigger distressing thoughts and emotions in the future. McGonigal argues to grow the good rather than stop the bad. Self-suppression is an avoidance of bad things, which creates no positive change. Self-expansion is seeking out benefits and applying them to create positive change in real-life circumstances. These two can look the same: reading a romance novel, going for a run, having beers with friends. Each can be forms of suppression or of expansion, but the difference, again, is in the why. The solution, then, is to identify what one wants from a game (i.e. learn something new, practice creativity, develop a skill), and then embrace these “play habits” in real life. One must be perfectly clear on why they want to play.  McGonigal invites readers to embark on a “quest:” it is (1) finding a game that has certain benefits, (2) identifying these benefits, and (3) applying these benefits to real life situations for a certain purpose. After identifying these aspects of game playing, one can gain limitless cognitive, emotional, and social benefits.

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