But I keep stumbling over things that don't quite jibe with my experience of video games, and wanting to dive more into why I react so differently.
For example, in a chapter on why the "work" of games feels so much more productive and satisfying than "real work", McGonigal writes:
In our real lives, hard work is something we do because we have to do it…to meet someone else's expectations. […] We resent that kind of work. It stresses us out. […] It comes with too much criticism. We're afraid of failing.These paragraphs socked me right in the chest, because this is how I've almost always felt about video games. I'm afraid of failing, because I'm afraid of the negative judgment of people watching me play. It stresses me out. I'm struggling and I feel overwhelmed. So I avoid it. Why would I choose to feel that way?
When we don't choose hard work for ourselves, it's usually not the right work, at the right time, for the right person. […] Hard work that someone else requires us to do just doesn't activate our happiness systems the same way. It all too often doesn't absorb us, doesn't make us optimistic, and doesn't invigorate us.
But McGonigal is describing "real work" in order to contrast it with video games. Games aren't supposed to feel that way. So why do they for me?
Well, I've almost always picked up a video game at the urging of someone else: brother, male friend, boyfriend. In every case it's been someone who has already spent a lot of time playing the game and gotten very good at it. He (it's always a he) enjoys it, and he thinks I would enjoy it too, and maybe we could enjoy playing it together. Great!
So he talks me into giving it a try, hands me the controller, and sits there watching me play. I make the obvious initial mistakes that everyone makes at first. I also usually struggle to master the control scheme. I'll struggle to figure out some puzzle that he didn't have much trouble with.
But the other person really wants me to succeed at this game! So he peppers me with advice. "No, go that way. You need to get into a smooth rhythm of running and jumping, you can't keep stopping like that. If you go over here, you can pick up [item/ability]."
A couple of chapters after the quote above, McGonigal talks about this -- but from the perspective of the person giving the advice. She calls it "naches" -- a Yiddish word for that feeling of bursting with vicarious pride at the success of your child or student. And she says
If we aren't actively contributing to the achievement with our support, then our emotional systems don't register vicarious pride. […]McGonigal hails this as an opportunity for positive mentoring interactions, which people don't get enough of in "real life." Maybe. But how do the players' family and friends feel about their contributions?
Game researchers who study industry trends report that, increasingly, one person will play a game while another, or others, watch, encourage, and advise. […]
[Regarding the game Braid] Players seem absolutely tickled to watch friends and family work out the a-ha moment for each puzzle, lending their advice and positive morale in the face of the game's frustrating mental challenges.
Maybe the guy watching me was getting a kick of vicarious pride, but it just felt intimidating and belittling on my end. With the constant suggestions and corrections, I was hyper-aware of every misstep. And when I did succeed at something, I felt like it wasn't my victory at all. It belonged to him.
I felt like a child trying to play ball with a parent constantly yelling "No, not that hand! Use your other hand! Choke up on the bat! Not that far up! Okay, it's going to be a curveball, get ready! You're swinging way too wide! Pay attention, it's coming! Now run, run, you have to get to second! Faster! No, stay there!" Pressured, nervous, terrified of failing and letting them down, resentful of having my agency taken away. Just play the damn game yourself if you can't handle letting me mess up and learn, okay? (N.B. My parents did not do this to me.)
Basically, the other person wasn't showing any belief that I could succeed. That killed my optimism about my ability to succeed. But he clearly wanted me to do this, so I felt like failure would make him like me less. So, something I had to do for someone else, that I didn't think I could do well at. Work, not fun. So I'm not really sure about this game-mentoring vicarious-pride business. I'd need to hear from more people to figure out if it's really positive for both parties, and if it is, what makes it different from my negative experiences with game advice.
Reality is Broken doesn't delve into gender differences in how we interact with games (at least so far). And as I wrote in my previous post "Why don't girls play video games? or, a fail blog," I think the particular experience with games I'm describing is really gender-linked. I only have anecdotes; I wonder whether serious research has been done about it. If so, I want to see what it says. If not -- I want to do it!
It sounds like I'm really whacking away at this book with criticism. In fact, I love the book. I suddenly understand so much of what I'm struggling with in my "real work", in light of McGonigal's insights about how people work with games. I've even gotten some great ideas about tactics I can use to give "real work" the fun, addictive qualities of a game I want to play. Although I don't have a lot of peak "flow" experiences with video games, I do recognize the feeling from other games: Scrabble, Encore, kierki, other board and card games. And I have felt it playing Rock Band (especially Beatles Rock Band). McGonigal gets to the heart of what, exactly, is fun about those games.
So I definitely recommend the book. I wouldn't be writing about my responses and questions if I wasn't having a great time engaging with it!