Wall Street Journal--"Be a Gamer, Save the World"

This weekend's edition of WSJ had this article that I simply had to share--you can read it online here.


One of the more interesting segments of the piece--which is really aimed at videogamers--was something I thought applied to board wargames as well.  The article argues that gaming provides four major experiences that, according to author Jane McGonigal, "make for a happy and meaningful life."  She lists these as: (1) satisfying work, (2) real hope for success, (3) strong social connections, and (4) the chance to become a part of something bigger than ourselves.  Her examples are drawn from the world of videogames but I thought I'd relate them to boardwargaming as well:


#1  Satisfying work.  After slaving hours on learning ASL rules or crafting a reasonable Soviet defense in FURY IN THE EAST, there's a sense of accomplishment.  Now, don't get me wrong--I still lose in both ASL and the MMP IGS game (the latter quite badly, still).  But I see improvement in my play and so I keep at it.  Particularly gratifying is when I finally can master some arcane rule/subroutine in ASL or solve a thorny game problem when sitting down to play.  


It's interesting that McGonigal talks about "Guitar Hero" videogame players who actually pick up guitars--as I've mentioned elsewhere, playing wargames--particularly small unit tactical wargames--is a big reason why I joined and then made a career out of the Marine Corps.  My hobby contributed to my work and my work contributed to my hobby. 


#2  Real hope for success.  Note that she's careful to say "hope" here.  Because, as do her videogame player subjects, I lose at least as often as I win, and in many games, I lose far more often than I win.  But it doesn't matter.  I'll still keep playing.  I can't seem to win one game of FURY IN THE EAST as the Soviet but doggone it, I keep playing as that side and will until I figure out how to win with them against a really good German player.


#3  Strong social connections.  I felt this when doing FTF play as a teenager, but now with the internet, I feel connected to people through websites such as this one, Board Game Geek, and other venues.  Yes, there are other people like me.  Lots of them.  It's a marvelous thing.  When I was in the military, I found like-minded fellow servicemembers both in and outside my unit.  It was terrific to learn from them and to develop teamwork to a higher level in solving cardboard military judgment challenges.  Indeed, I even created a briefing on the subject: "Wargaming and Military Culture:  Education and Cohesion Building."


#4  Chance to become something bigger than ourselves.  Again, she uses a caveat--"chance."  But who doesn't get inspired by taking on national leadership responsibilities in a game of WORLD IN FLAMES or TOTALER KRIEG?  When playing a team game in some monstergame or taking on a flight of aircraft in WHISTLING DEATH or a couple sailing ships in CLOSE ACTION, we subsume our own desires to that of the larger goal of the team.  


McGonigal sings the praises that gaming brings to real-world problem solving and her arguments are compelling.  Now, if I can only figure a way to get approval to run long games over breaks and lunch hours in my next job!

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Comment by Peter Perla on January 27, 2011 at 5:35pm

HI Eric,


Jane has a video of a presentation of this thesis on the TED site. I'm too lazy to try to find it. She does not look like a gamer--at least, not a wargamer. LOL.


Take care



Comment by Stephen G on January 25, 2011 at 6:10am
Great article, thanks for posting...makes you think, 'Why can't work be as challenging as gaming'....

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