Author McGonigal on a mission to make games matter

Thu Mar 17, 2011 4:26pm EDT
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By Liana B. Baker

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Best-selling author Jane McGonigal is on a mission, spreading a message that playing games, whether electronic or physical, is not a waste of time but can improve lives and solve real world problems.

She has been viewed as a kind of ambassador of the $60.4 billion global video game industry since she spoke at the influential TED Talk conference in 2010. Her book, "Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World" hit stores in January and by February made the New York Times bestseller list. And now, she is a regular guest at seminars and on TV talk shows, such as "The Colbert Report."

"We can use the positive emotions and social connections that we take from video games to start making a difference in the real world," McGonigal told Reuters.

McGonigal got into the video game business when she applied for a game design job off an advertisement on Craigslist in 2001 during her first semester as a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley.

She made her name in the industry by helping design a popular mission-based game that accompanied the launch of Microsoft's video game "Halo 2."

But her work did not stop at video games. One game she designed was a futuristic one called "World Without Oil," a collaborative effort where thousands of people showed how they would cope with an oil shortage.

A more controversial game is her "Tombstone Hold 'Em," where participants play a physical version of poker using tombstones in cemeteries. Her book argues the game creates a "social, and more enjoyable way of remembering death," a universal human fear.

GAMES HELP HEAL   Continued...

<p>Jane McGonigal, author of the book "Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World", delivers the keynote address at the PAX East gaming conference in Boston, Massachusetts March 11, 2011. REUTERS/Brian Snyder</p>