Monday, October 18, 2010

get your game face on

As a planet, we collectively spend 3 billion hours a week playing computer and video games. Today’s youth are contributing a particularly heavy share of that load: The average young person in the UK will have spent 10,000 hours playing games by the time they turn 21. It’s enough to make you ask: Shouldn’t we all be doing something better with our time? Something more productive than, say, slaying virtual monsters, racing virtual cars, and managing virtual football teams?

But the gamers (and they make up more than a third of the UK population) may be on to something: It turns out that gameplay is extraordinarily productive. It may not increase GDP. But it does produce, more cheaply and reliably than almost any other activity, the positive emotions – such as delight, curiosity, pride and bliss – that scientists say are crucial to our health and success in real life.

It turns out that people who experience on average 3 positive emotions for every 1 negative emotion they feel live 10 years longer. They’re more successful at work, school and personal pursuits – and they also have longer, happier marriages. Scientists say it doesn’t matter where you get these positive emotions – it just matters that you sincerely feel them. And if you watch the faces of gamers while they play – whole-heartedly engaged, passionately motivated, and intensely rewarded – you know that they’re not just playing games. They’re also building up their inner reserve of good feelings.

They’re also producing social capital. Research from major universities such as MIT and Stanford show that we like and trust other people more after we’ve played a game together -- even if they’ve beaten us. More importantly, scientists have discovered that we’re more likely to help someone in real life after we’ve helped them in a cooperative game. Games aren’t just making us happier – they’re also building up our social bonds. No wonder 40% of total hours spent on Facebook are spent playing games. Our 3 billion hours a week gaming are producing the two most important aspects of well-being – positive emotions and positive relationships. There’s simply nothing better to be doing with our free time.

I'm not sure I agree with Jane McGonigal, but that is an intriguing thesis, artfully expressed.
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