Games designed to help real lives: Jane McGonigal inspires at Pax East 2011

Games designed to help real lives: Jane McGonigal inspires at Pax East 2011

Jane McGonigal, PhD is a world-renowned designer of alternate reality games — or, games that are designed to improve real lives and solve real problems.

Last week myself and approximately sixty thousand of my new best friends made the trip to Boston to attend Penny Arcade Expo (Pax East). While at PAX I had the opportunity to attend the weekend’s opening keynote panel featuring a talk by Jane McGoginal. Ms. McGonigal was a motivating speaker who touched base with many attendees and spoke of how games make us better, stronger, and can help us with our daily lives.

In her talk Jane spoke of the benefits of positive emotions as they related to gaming. Jane quoted various studies including one by the United States Army Mental Health Assessment Team. The study talks about coping mechanisms for deployed soldiers and how various outlets affect behavior and mental health. You can find the study here ( but the findings that Ms. McGoginal quoted in her talk surrounded the following:

The amount of time Service Members engaged in individual coping behaviors during their off time (such as surfing the net and video gaming) was associated with a decrease in psychological problems when done in moderation (no more than 2 to 4 hours).  However, the association reversed itself if Service Members spent more than 3 or 4 hours per day engaged in these activities.  The exception to this curvilinear trend was with physical training (PT).  Physical training was associated with decreased psychological problems regardless of how much time is spent doing PT. –Mental Health Advisory Team

Simply put, no more than two to four hours per day of gaming served as a profound coping mechanism for soldiers on tour while exercise exceeding that number of hours was more beneficial. Hmm, imagine that, gaming and health to help maintain mental and emotional well being! What a great find!

Jane continued to speak about the benefits of positive stress and positive emotions stating that happiness with oneself can directly impact how others perceive you and thus open up more opportunities for success.

In her talk Ms. McGonigal introduced the concept of creating games to overcome hardships. Drawing on her own experiences with a brain injury and suicidal thoughts, she spoke of how she turned recovery into a game, an act, she says, brought about the positive emotions and ability to cope that she eluded  to earlier in her presentation.

Without transcribing the keynote for you Jane’s message was this: Gaming (in moderation) has benefits and can help us to face and succeed when dealing with real life challenges. While not all attendees agreed with her interpretations of various studies it was clear that Jane McGonigal was NOT merely making an attempt to placate the crowd. Jane spoke rationally and passionately about her beliefs and her ideas that games have and can have a profoundly positive effect in life.

Jane’s research all came about while she worked on her book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. You can follow that link to order a copy, check your local library, or head on over to this link (  at TedTV to hear her 2010 speech.


For more information about Jane you can visit her website at

For more information about the study by the United States Army Mental Health Assessment Team mentioned in this article (or other studies by the team) you can visit



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