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The secret treasure in gamification’s future.

By CLAY RISEN [Bookforum] – We desperately need alternative models to our country’s failing public-education system. But to game designer Jane McGonigal, the author of Reality Is Broken, Quest to Learn [charter schools in New York] represents not just an alternative but the very future of secondary education. “Their ideal school is a game,” she writes, which would mirror the immersive online worlds in which millions of children—and adults—spend their free time.

And McGonigal’s faith in the power of games is hardly limited to education. According to her, games can, and will, refashion the way we work, volunteer, and socialize—that is, the very way we live, online and off. “Game design,” she writes, is “a twenty-first-century way of thinking and leading. And gameplay isn’t just a pastime. It’s a twenty-first-century way of working together to accomplish real change.”

McGonigal is not alone, at least when “accomplishing real change” means “making lots of money”: According to the popular online magazine VentureBeat, over the past year the tech industry has invested some $135 million in “gamification,” or the use of gaming tropes, like finding “secret treasure” or completing “levels,” to get consumers to visit a store or buy movie tickets. The best-known example is Foursquare, a smart-phone-based application in which players “check in” to locations (shops, concerts, movie theaters) to win points. Gamification, many in Silicon Valley believe, is the next big thing in Internet technology, following in the footsteps of blogs and social networking.

But McGonigal wants to take things still further. Her book is full of gnomic pronouncements like “The real world increasingly feels like it’s missing something” and “Compared with games, reality is depressing.” In response, she advocates a sort of ludo-cyborgism, in which we recast our daily lives to mimic the mechanics of video games and their culture. “Games aren’t leading us to the downfall of human civilization,” she writes. “They’re leading us to its reinvention.”

Continued at Bookforum | More Chronicle & Notices.

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