Jane McGonigal

World-renowned game designer
Inventor of SuperBetter
Author of the NYT bestseller Reality Is Broken

Reality needs better game design.

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Biography

Fast Company's 1000 Most Creative People in Business 2014

Jane McGonigal is today's leading speaker on the engagement economy and the application of game-design to the real world. She has created games for organizations such as the World Bank, the Olympic Games, the American Heart Association, the New York Public Library, and many more. Her book, Reality Is Broken: How Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change The World, is a New York Times bestseller.

In this engaging, forward-thinking book, Jane makes the case that the gamer spirit — an attitude of fun, dedicated, collective problem-solving — is our greatest asset as we face the social, economic, and environmental problems of the 21st century. She argues that game designers are effectively happiness engineers, experts in making difficult tasks engaging, and that we should draw on their smarts as we frame the challenges of our time.

Jane herself is a specialist in this field, a designer of alternate reality games, where a real-life activity is re-framed as a game. Players of Jane's games face challenges as serious as surviving peak oil or establishing local sustainable businesses. And they face them with courage and creativity, inspired by their gameful state of mind. Persistence, energy, collaborative creativity, a sense of purpose in hard work — games unlock all of these powerful attitudes. And, most importantly of all, this approach restores to contemporary life the kind of heroism and communal striving that most of us struggle so hard to find.

Jane is notable for bringing gaming to the healthcare space. Her best-known project is SuperBetter, a mobile app and web-based game that helps individuals challenge personal health challenges (depression, anxiety, chronic pain, stress reduction), and get support from their "allies" — real-life friends and family. With more than 125,000 players, it is currently under study at OSU Medical Center and the University of Pennsylvania. Jane's other healthcare games include collaborations with the American Heart Association and the Myelin Repair Foundation.

She is currently an advisor and affiliate researcher with the Institute For The Future in Palo Alto, California, where she served for four years as the Director of Game Research and Development. Her recent projects include a Games for Healthcare initiative with IFTF and the White House as well as Paths Out Of Poverty, a crowdsourcing game by IFTF for the Rockefeller Foundation.

Credentials and Honors

  • 2013's Entrepreneurial Women to Watch, Entrepreneur
  • Advisor and affiliate researcher, Institute For The Future, a non-profit futures research group based in Palo Alto, California
  • Former Director of Game Research and Development, IFTF
  • Author of the New York Times bestseller, Reality Is Broken
  • PhD, University of California at Berkeley in performance studies
  • “Young Global Leader” and featured speaker at the Annual Meeting at Davos, World Economic Forum (2012) 2-time winner of the Most Important Futures Work of the Year from the Association of Professional Futurists (2010, 2012)
  • #1 Social Impact Game of the Year, Games for Change (2011)
  • Honored by Game Developer Magazine as one of the 50 people making the biggest impact in games
  • One of Top 10 Scientists To Watch for 2011, The New York Times
  • Creativity Magazine's Creativity 50 2011
  • Named by Oprah Winfrey as one of the twenty most inspiring women in the world, O Magazine, 2010

Books

Reality Is Broken

Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

Jane McGonigal

Visionary game designer Jane McGonigal reveals how we can harness the power of games to solve real world problems and boost global happiness.

More than 174 million Americans are gamers, and the average young person in the United States will spend ten thousand hours gaming by the age of 21. According to world-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal, the reason for this mass exodus to virtual worlds is that videogames are increasingly fulfilling genuine human needs. In this groundbreaking exploration of the power and future of gaming, McGonigal reveals how we can use the lessons of game design to fix what is wrong with the real world.

Drawing on positive psychology, cognitive science and sociology, Reality is Broken uncovers how game designers have hit on core truths about what makes us happy, and utilized these discoveries to astonishing effect in virtual environments. Videogames consistently provide the exhilarating rewards, stimulating challenges and epic victories that are so often lacking in the real world. But why, McGonigal asks, should we use the power of games for escapist entertainment alone? Her research suggests that gamers are expert problem solvers and collaborators, since they cooperate with other players to overcome daunting virtual challenges, and she helped pioneer a fast-growing genre of games that aims to turn gameplay to socially positive ends.

In Reality is Broken, she reveals how these new Alternate Reality Games are already improving the quality of our daily lives, fighting social problems like depression and obesity, and addressing vital 21st century challenges — and she forecasts the thrilling possibilities that lie ahead. She introduces us to games like World Without Oil, a simulation designed to brainstorm — and therefore avert — the challenges of a worldwide oil shortage, and Evoke, a game commissioned by the World Bank Institute that sends players on missions to address issues from poverty to climate change.

McGonigal persuasively argues that those who continue to dismiss games will be at a major disadvantage in the coming years. Gamers, on the other hand, will be able to leverage the collaborative and motivational power of games in their own lives, communities, and businesses. Written for gamers and non-gamers alike, Reality is Broken shows us that the future will belong to those who can understand, design and play games.

Penguin paperback (Dec. 27, 2011)
Penguin, (January 20, 2011)

Reviews

Super Mario managementThe Economist
The Computer Made Me Do ItThe New York Times
Book clubPAX sims
The Dwindling Difference Between Play and WorkThe Millions

Praise

"Jane is a kind of secret weapon. Her work is seminal, and those of us who track new social interactions have had her work on our 'must-read' list for years. … The most remarkable thing about Jane's work is that even the extreme conclusions are backed up by careful extrapolation of visible forces: when she says 'Reality, compared to games, is broken', that is both a radical statement and a basic observation about the lived experience of millions. When she proposes turning the energy around gameplay to socially positive ends, she is outlining an effort at once astonishing and achievable. It's this kind of work — grounded, accessible and dramatic — that makes her so important."
— Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody

"Jane's work has helped define a new medium, one that blends reality and fantasy and puts the lie to the idea that there is such a thing as 'fiction' — we live every story we experience and we become every game we play. Her insights have the elegant, compact, deadly simplicity of plutonium, and the same explosive force."
— Cory Doctorow, New York Times bestselling author of Little Brother and co-editor of BoingBoing

"Reality Is Broken will both stimulate your brain and stir your soul. Once you read this remarkable book, you’ll never look at games — or yourself — quite the same way."
— Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind

"The world has no shortage of creative people with interesting ideas. What it lacks are people who can apply them in ways that really make a difference, and inspire others to do the same. Jane McGonigal is the rare person who delivers on both."
— Tony Hsieh, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Delivering Happiness and C.E.O. of Zappos.com, Inc.

"Reality Is Broken is the most eye-opening book I read this year. With awe-inspiring expertise, clarity of thought, and engrossing writing style, Jane McGonigal cleanly exploded every misconception I’ve ever had about games and gaming. If you thought that games are for kids, that games are squandered time, or that games are dangerously isolating, addictive, unproductive, and escapist, you are in for a giant surprise!"
— Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want

"Wonder why we love games? McGonigal has written the best take yet on the deep joys of play — and how to use that force for good. Reality is Broken is a rare beast: A book that’s both philosophically rich and completely practical. It will change the way you see the world."
— Clive Thompson, contributing writer for Wired and The New York Times Magazine

"The path to becoming happier, improving your business, and saving the world might be one and the same: understanding how the world’s best games work. Think learning about Halo can’t help your life or your company? Think again."
— Tim Ferriss, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek

"Jane McGonigal’s uncanny vision and snappy writing give all of us a plausible glimpse of a positive human future, and how gaming — of all things — will take us there."
— Martin Seligman, author of Flourish and Authentic Happiness

"Jane McGonigal's groundbreaking research offers a surprising solution to how we can build stronger communities and collaborate at extreme scales: by playing bigger and better games. And no one knows more about how to design world-changing games than McGonigal. Reality Is Broken is essential reading for anyone who wants to play a hand in inventing a better future."
— Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia

"Forget everything you know, or think you know, about online gaming. Like a blast of fresh air, Reality is Broken blows away the tired stereotypes and reminds us that the human instinct to play can be harnessed for the greater good. With a stirring blend of energy, wisdom and idealism, Jane McGonigal shows us how to start saving the world one game at a time."
— Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slowness and Under Pressure

Topics

Jane tailors each presentation to the needs of her audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest her range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

Learning is an Epic Win

Why gaming is the future of learning.

Why don’t our learning platforms work more like a game? In the best designed games, our engagement is perfectly optimized: we have important work to do, we’re surrounded by potential collaborators, and we learn quickly and in a low-risk environment. When we’re playing a good online game, we get constant useful feedback, we turbo-charge the neurochemistry that makes challenge fun, and we feel an insatiable curiosity about the world around us. None of this is by accident. In fact, game developers have spent the past three decades figuring out how to make us more optimistic and more likely to collaborate, how to make problem-solving more fun and social, and how to satisfy our hunger for meaning and success. And all of these game-world insights can be applied directly to amplify and augment the way we teach, learn, and do research in the real world. You’ll learn how online game design and game theory can transform our learning communities — and help re-invent higher education as we know it.

Gaming and Youth

Why videogames are making young people better — and preparing them to change the real world.

The average young person racks up 10,000 hours of gaming by the age of 21. That’s 24 hours less than they spend in a classroom for all of middle and high school if they have perfect attendance. But the good news is: These 10,000 hours aren’t an escapist waste of time. Gaming is a productive part of young people’s lives — it produces positive emotion, stronger social relationships, a sense of accomplishment, and for players who become a part of a bigger online community, a chance to build up a sense of meaning and purpose. Scientific research shows that all of these feelings and activities can trickle into our real lives and impact our real-life confidence, ambition, likability and willingness to help others. In fact, when we play a good game, especially multi-player games, we become the best version of ourselves: the most optimistic, most creative, most focused, most collaborative, the most likely to set ambitious goals, the most resilient in the face of failure.

Why Games Make Us Better

How games can help us achieve extraordinary goals.

We spend 3 billion hours a week as a planet playing computer and videogames — and these 3 billion hours are far from an escapist waste of time. Gaming is actually one of the most productive ways we can spend our time — it produces positive emotion, stronger social relationships, a sense of accomplishment, and for players who become a part of a bigger online community, a chance to build up a sense of meaning and purpose. Scientific research shows that all of these feelings and activities can trickle into our real lives and impact our real-life confidence, ambition, likability and willingness to help others. In fact, when we play a good game, especially multiplayer games, we become the best version of ourselves: the most optimistic, most creative, most focused, most collaborative, the most likely to set ambitious goals, the most resilient in the face of failure. In this talk, find out how you can unlock the power of games to achieve extraordinary goals in your real life — and how gaming can become a source of innovation and collaboration for your most important work.

Games for Health — or How to Get SuperBetter

Find out how games can be used to transform healthcare and create "epic wins" for patients. Drawing on the latest clinical trials and peer-reviewed research, Jane McGonigal, PhD explains how games build positive health assets, such as resilience, optimism and self-efficacy. She explores how games can be used as a powerful tool for behavior change, particularly in tackling chronic and lifestyle-related challenges such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease. She will demonstrate how to create stronger social support systems through games to speed recovery from injury and illness. And she will share her own research on how games can increase longevity — by creating physical, mental, social and emotional habits that lead to 10 extra years of healthy life.

Videos

Massively multi-player... thumb-wrestling? | TED

The game that can give you 10 extra years of life | TED

Innovative Education Forum

Feedback

A major university:
Her talk today hit every nail on the head. I could not have been more pleased. It was PERFECT!"

A higher ed and software users conference:

  • [Jane] was a brilliant choice.
  • The Tuesday keynote was excellent! I very much enjoyed and was inspired by Jane's talk.
  • The Tuesday Keynote was really amazing!! My eyes were opened about the topic of gaming. I found the presenter to be excellent as well — I enjoyed the engagement with the audience (thumb wrestling)
  • Tuesday Keynote was unexpectedly excellent.
  • The Keynote speaker really made me think about the general perception of people playing games.

A global media management group (workshop feedback):
Jane McGonigal created an exclusive and amazing game for us. To play the game, we had to change our perspective of our business, our mindset, our way of thinking... and we have to create a whole new future... and it was super great fun. We were able to create a more positive mindset for embracing change in a fun and creative and memorable way. Best of all, we can go back to the office and play the game with everyone again.

A major software developer:
She was outstanding. They LOVED her. Went really well. She is a total pro on that stage!

An educator's conference:

  • This was the best keynote I've ever seen. Wow!
  • Best keynote we've had in the series. She forced us to think beyond the typical technological solutions for traditional academic goals.
  • You made a terrific choice in bringing Dr. McGonigal out. She was challenging and inspiring, but always thought-provoking.
  • Amazing speaker, great presentation. Takes my breath away — what an extraordinary world of gamers! I had no idea.
  • Topic was extremely relevant to teaching, learning, and research today, and the speaker actively connected gaming to those ideas rather than letting the concept remain abstract.
  • GREAT speaker, very well prepared, excellent public speaking skills, and fantastic slides.
  • Very creative ideas, just loved it.
  • The lecture was great, but the exercise was a wonderful bonus.
  • McGonigal was an excellent speaker—entertaining, articulate and intelligent. Her topic was fascinating. The interactive activity at the end was an engaging surprise.

A museum association:
Dear Jane — You rock! The lecture, and your delivery, was absolutely pitch-perfect. I have been inundated by emails from attendees raving the event and looking forward to the online discussions. [A few colleagues] met me for breakfast the next morning, and were brimming with ideas on how to make the lecture follow up itself into a game. (Games within games within games.)

Even our board chair, who has been somewhat gun shy of this new futurist project, was heard to remark "now I get it!" (Meaning gaming, I think, but I hope more generally this whole playful approach to considering the future.)

You have my undying gratitude.

A science, technology & economic development nonprofit:
Jane was phenomenal. I can’t say enough about her. Great presentation — very friendly and accommodating — so easy to work with. She also did a great job with the panel discussion.

A state council of nonprofits:
It was fabulous! Jane's content was exciting — she's a great presenter.

A cable telecommunication marketing association:
Jane’s session was the highest rated Interactive Workshop at The Summit! Attendees overwhelmingly gave her session high ratings for content, presentation, etc. The Roundtable that she led the next day was also very highly rated.

Please pass along our highest compliments.

A communications industry trade organization:
McGonigal was great, event was a huge success, we had very good attendance. Jane was a wonderful, compelling speaker. We've received great feedback. All and all, we were very happy.

A leading business consulting and strategic IT company:
Dear Jane — Thank you for making our client conference a huge success this year. Your energizing presentation on massively multiplayer games and collaboration was memorable and very thought provoking. I overheard conversations about job titles in 2019 for days afterward! Our expectations were surpassed, and any conference organizers would be lucky to have you speak at their event in the future.