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Ideas from...Jane McGonigal (132/365)

Weekends are for learning, for diving deeply into some of the ideas I'm learning about through my process of "writing to learn" while "learning to write".

In the last few months, I've been drawn to and have immersed myself in the work of Jane McGonigal, EdD, described as "a world-renowned designer of alternate reality games - or, games that are designed to improve real lives and solve real problems". I'm currently reading her book, Super Better: The Power of Living Gamefully. It's got me doing some serious cross-pollination of ideas between the work she's doing and the work I'm doing.

(More on that in future posts.)

This post is about ideas I learned from a podcast that's not in my weekly queue, Invest Like the Best, a conversation with Jane McGonigal and the host, Patrick O'Shaughnessy.

How Games Make Life Better:

According to McGonigal's research sources, 2.6 Billion people regularly play games on connected devices. In the last ten years, the tipping point has been: people connected via he internet and gamers connecting to one other.

Now I know what you may be thinking, especially if you know me or if you've read other pieces I've written about technology use in classrooms and schools: Wait. What?

Here are seven ideas from the podcast, that I will unpack and add to in future posts.


Based on ideas in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a strong connection exists between gaming and achieving a state of flow. Games are uniquely designed to put us in the state between feeling bored and overwhelmed. They're based on challenge, focused attention, optimism, growth, and personal development.


How does getting involved in something you’re not good at, focusing attention, tackling challenges above your skills level, and devoting effort, attention, a desire to grow, a sort of stickiness of brain development become part of your identity?

How might people who play games look to apply these gaming skills in their real life?

- Problem solving

- Team leader

- Not giving up


#1 predictor of success: Can kids talk about the real skills and strengths they’re building as who they are, or to escape though games?

Parents can help, by asking their kids questions about the games they play:

The most important questions: What’s hard about this game? What makes this challenging?

The goal of this question is to:

  • Articulate real skills and strategies.

  • Reflect it back when they face real challenges, so kids can connect the value between games and life.

  • Parents can say: You want to try again? It’s great that you don’t want to give up.

Games (like golf, chess) use unnecessary obstacles to provoke; curiosity, creativity, growth, collective intelligence. Notice, we're not talking about video games (at least not yet).

“There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite; the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.” - James P. Carse

  • Infinite game are those that allows participants to stay in a game as long as possible, and keeps as many people in the game as possible.

  • It makes it easy for a participant to restart, to get back in the game, at full-strength.

  • Central to the infinite games are access to and inclusivity in a community.

For first-hand experience, McGonigal recommends Fortnite. Pokémon Go, and Minecraft. Gaming literacy connects with friendships, passions, and maybe even financial gain.


The right challenge for the right person at the right time, given my interests skills and what drives me. It's less about "fun" and more about discovering multiple pathways for success.


  • Gamification is about giving points or badges for doing something ("pointsification").

  • McGonigal says gamers will say, it’s about getting points. It’s about the challenge.

  • She talks about the project she did with the New York Public Library, responding to the challenge of how to get people to take out more books? The reason this failed: Gamification was about what the library wanted, not about what patrons are seeking.

  • McGonigal researched this and found 92% want to write a book. So she designed a challenge: Design a game that turns you into a published author. Her message in this was, to address the question of what real challenge do people care about solving?


What challenge, once achieved, will foster a sense of genuine accomplishment?

These seven ideas are not my own. By writing about them, I will be challenging some most deeply held beliefs I'm contemplating and will be sharing more about in future posts.

I've made an important decision: not to wait until I have all of the answers before I write. In other words, I focusing on "writing to learn". Not perfect, not complete, but learning.

It's as if I'm developing a gameful mindset.

Click here to visit the Learning Leadership 365 site, where you may read all posts I've written.


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