Reality is broken so go virtual, says games developer

Web developers and designers have a lot to gain by looking to the virtual world, because compared to the gaming world, reality is broken, says Jane McGonigal, game designer and director of game research and development at the Institute for the Future, a California-based non-profit research group.

People are not as happy and fulfilled in reality as they are in online, virtual realities, such as World of Warcraft, McGonigal told the audience at developer and designer conference Webstock, which kicked off on yesterday in Wellington.

Games make us happy and "awesome" -- stronger and smarter, says McGonigal. Good games optimise gamers' experience by providing more interesting work, better feedback and stronger communities, she says.

In World of Warcraft, for example, there is zero unemployment; there is a never-ending list of important, world-saving tasks to do, she says.

The feedback gamers get is often very different from feedback in the real world. By visually showing what you have learnt in the form of points or bars you get stronger from feedback, she says. Even negative feedback encourages gamers to try again and, in combination with the positive feedback, to eventually succeed. "If only we felt like that about feedback in real life," says McGonigal.

As opposed to the situation in the real world, in the gaming world you are surrounded by allies and friends who are ready and willing to help you complete those world-saving tasks, she says.

McGonigal connects these points to research around happiness, which has shown that what humans crave are satisfying work to do and the experience of being good at something, as well as time spent with people they like and to be part of something bigger if given the chance. This is why gaming makes us happier, she concludes.

So, when creating websites, developers and designers need to figure out how to structure the experience to make people happier and how to develop systems that make people awesome, she says.

McGonigal also urged the audience to participate in Signtific Lab, "a public lab for cutting-edge ideas for the future of the web and space". Ideas, limited to 140 characters, will help invent the future of the web, she says. By the end of the conference on Thursday, over 100 delegates had contributed 1,000 new ideas.

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