How “Reality Is Broken” Opened My Eyes to Games and Education

I found the book Realty is Broken by Jane McGonagall very intriguing and somehow related to my interest in education and video games. The writer starts describing what a game is in four words:

  • Goals ( finishing a race, or saving the princess )
  • Rules (obstacles you need to avoid, and game mechanics)
  • Feedback System (score, time, speed, map)
  • Voluntary participation

Then she discussed what happiness is and how when “flow” in games or real life activities is achieved we become completely activated as human beings. A study by Csikszentmihalyi on flow and happiness is discussed in this book and the study questions why schools, factories, and offices are failing to provide this flow. The book discuss the word fiero , which is an Italian word( meaning ‘pride’) it describes the powerful neurochemical high when you face difficult levels, obtainable goals, and feedback. Playing games is a safe and an easy way to achieve flow and fiero because they are not like real life where you cannot measure things and get the feedback needed with clear goals to do a task. The author gets it right somehow when she describe games as hard work but we do not consider it work because gives us the feeling of achieving something great.

In the last year I went through training as a teacher. One of the things I had to do is to observe teachers in the classroom, and they all had different styles and techniques. The teachers resorted to simple PowerPoint lectures, group work, practical demonstration or mini games. The mini games were simple such as put the pictures or words in the right order, or answer questions in a multiple choice format. By observing the students behavior and body language, they were just doing it because they had to; which made me think more about video games and education. Also in Reality is broken the author touches on education and video games on how many educators try video games as a tool to educate and the student would be engaged for a while but then they will lose interest. She also gave an example of a public school in New York called Quest to learn. The students are learning by doing quests and games in school such as finding a hidden treasure or solving a math problem to beat the final boss.

When I spend time with my niece and nephew I usually play games with them on the Ipad and most of the educational games in the stores fail to engage them as well because they all transform a simple image or text from a book or a printed page to a digital format. As an adult thinking back to when I was a kid I rather go play or watch TV as well.  On the other hand some Apps succeed on engaging kids but it also lasts for a while; for example an App called Endless 123 played by my two years old niece had a goal, rules, and a great feedback system, and my niece was playing it voluntarily. This app covers the four words discussed earlier. The App was simple:

  • You start the game by choosing a number from 1 to 25 (They were all drawn as cutes appealing monsters.
  • Then you have to place the numbers in their rightful place (example in the image below).

    File 17-10-2015 22 51 26
    Endless 123 App
  • When you succeed in placing the numbers they will reward you with a small animated story.

The game also had a small adding system while playing the game and it might have been better played by a kid aged 5 or 6 but that did not fail to entertain my 2 years old niece because the rules were simple to follow. After a while my niece stopped playing the game because it was repetitive and was only playable till the number 25.

This brings me to games like Elder Scrolls and World of Warcraft, these games have a lore, and by talking to NPC’s, doing quests and reading books scattered around; you discover more about this world. Players spend so much time reading a fake history or a story in this fantasy world. Why do players spend so much time learning about it? What makes it more appealing than real history? Games like Assassin Creed has real historical events and players have a lot of memes on the internet describing how they learned more history in game than they ever did in school.


Reality is Broken have many examples of games that helps in making daily life more fun such as Chore Wars where players do chores in real life like washing the dishes or doing the laundry to attain points in a website for this games. Also the author explains how she fought depression and recovery in a game she created to make life more fun to her by creating a fantasy story and level up every time she does something. The book also discusses how games unite us as a community and I totally agree with the author. My world of Warcraft guild are now and have been my closest friends. I don’t know why but spending 3 to 4 hours a day with them in game or fighting an obstacle together to kill a boss or obtain an awesome mount created an unbreakable bound between us. Many companies create team building exercises and they all involve playing games to bring colleagues closer together. Many events have been created around the world by using games as a tool to do something for the greater good.

Ice Cream for Hell Scream Guild

Reality is Broken is a good read and it made me think more about what is fun and why do we play games, I certainly want to do more readings on Csikszentmihalyi study and also Barry Schwartz book “Why we Work”.

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