GDC Tuesday: Jane McGonigal - We Don't Need no Stinking Badges

Jane McGonigal's slides can be found here (Jane, thanks for posting them)

On Tuesday afternoon Jane McGonigal presented a talk on gamification called: We don't need no stinking badges. Jared is more in tune with her work than I am, and if you want to read more about it check out his post about her. I believe I need to read her book because from every time I hear her speak I find myself wishing that she would go a little deeper into the kind of problems that gamification can solve. Regardless I thought this was the kind of talk that reached the audience in a very positive and motivating way. BTW, the image on the left of this post is from the 1948 film The Treasure of Sierra Madre, and lead off Jane's presentation.

The presentation focused on how elements of gamification run parallel to positive psychology. Jane discussed how she had recently had a chance to speak with the father of the discipline Martin Seligman. To her surprise she found that her thoughts on how games could have a positive impact on reality were the same as the core set of things that Martin Seligman's research – see his new book Flourish - has indicated make people happy.

Below is a summary of the concepts that Jane presented with an interpretation from positive psychology. On the left are the things Jane believes that games can bring to reality on the right is the reasoning from positive psychology.

Blissful Productivity → Achievement and Accomplishment. Research has indicated that individuals are happier if they have a relative sense of achievement and accomplishment in relation to others.

Social Fabric → Family matters. Relationships matter. Relationships dictate happiness more than any other indicator.

Urgent Optimisim → Positive emotions release seratonin. Negative emotions release stress hormones like cortisol. Over a period of time these actually lead to physiological changes.

Epic Meaning → Meaning. Having meaning in ones life is important. Individuals are happier when there action allow them to self-determine and have an impact on their world

Since this is a scientific blog I want to mention that the connection to the research on positive psychology was probably the most scientific aspect of this talk. The rest of the evidence that Jane presented was fairly anecdotal in nature. None the less I found it to be passionate and on point regarding the state of gamification. Beyond positive psychology she mentioned the following things:

We need to be giving gamers real power the power to change lives and reality. Not badges, points, and achievements.

Gaming is not a waste of time. Even though many people currently believe it is. Games are unnecessary obstacles that we agree to tackle, but they can make us feel engaged and productive. Additionally, if they are designed correctly they can make the world a better place.

Jane touched on the idea of eustress as something games can give to us. This is stress that is positive in nature it helps us grow and allows us to overcome hurdles and obstacles further down the road. To reiterate her point on eustress she showed some images from the portraits of gamers series.

She wants games to empower individuals by giving them superpowers. Superpowers allow individuals to make achievements and to find meaning in what they are doing.

Finally, she mentioned a few of the games she is working on with Social Chocolate. Super Better has been mentioned before and she went into details about her problems with post-concussion syndrome. Then using Super Better to overcome it.

She also detailed a new game that she hasn't mentioned before. This game involves the New York Public Library system and is an effort to engage individuals with their local library. The game will involve players going on adventures seeking classic artifacts and books in the 40 mile underground stacks and writing their own book, which will be published in the library.


Overall I found the talk to be very motivating. Jane is a great figurehead for the gamification movement not only because she has great ideas, but because her infection and enthusiasm seem to rub off on those in the audience.

GDC Tuesday: Jane McGonigal - We Don't Need no Stinking Badges by Travis Ross, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

One Response to “GDC Tuesday: Jane McGonigal - We Don't Need no Stinking Badges”

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