Video Game Design

Good game designers know how to draw us in by catering to some very basic emotional needs. (Researcher Jane McGonigal) notes that the best games have four elements: clear goals that allow us to feel a sense of purpose; rules that make the task harder and thereby challenge our creativity; rapid feedback to chart our progress; and an experience that is voluntary.

Wouldn't it be nice if work was more like a video game? Your boss would articulate a clear mission and set of milestones you were expected to meet. You would go into the office every day and receive ongoing feedback about your progress so you could see the impact you are having.

The truth, of course, is that reality is messy. Our goals are fuzzy, our progress unclear. Video games, the majority of which now focus on getting us to cooperate rather than compete, offer a more fulfilling existence, McGonigal argues.

"We all want to find more meaning in what we do, like we're part of something bigger," McGonigal said. "Games give us a place to feel that, to cooperate and do something that is more satisfying."

Stop and consider the astonishing amount of time that people are now spending on games. In the U.S. alone, there are 183 million active gamers out of a population just under 310 million. Each day in "World of Warcraft" alone, people spend more than 30 million hours playing. And that's just one game. If we redirected even a fraction of that time into making schools better, the result could be an epic win for all of us.

Chris O'Brien, Mercury News Columnist