Brain Pickings

Reality Is Broken: How Games Make Us Better

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Becoming better versions of ourselves, or how the basic paradigms of gaming culture foster social change.

We’re big fans of game designer and researcher Jane McGonigal, whose insights on gaming for productivity we’ve featured before and whom we had the pleasure of seeing speak at TED 2010. Today marks the release of McGonigal’s debut book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World — a compelling vision for harnessing the basic paradigms of gaming culture to foster social change. Armed with equal parts passion and empirical evidence, McGonigal debunks a number of myths about and prejudices against gamers to reveal a complex and highly motivated subculture of dedication and collaboration — the very qualities most fundamental to laying the foundation for global happiness.

When we’re in game worlds, [we] become the best version of ourselves, the most likely to help at a moment’s notice, the most likely to stick with a problem as long at it takes, to get up after failure and try again.” ~ Jane McGonigal

Through fascinating examples of how alternate-reality games are already improving our lives, scientific insight into the neurochemical processes that take place in our brains during gaming, and psychology-rooted blueprints for employing the reward systems of gaming to motivate real-life behaviors, McGonigal showcases the incredible potential of gamers and gaming culture to change not only how we live our lives on an individual level, but also how we do business and engage in our communities socially and globally.

For a teaser taste of McGonigal’s visionary insight, don’t miss her excellent TED talk:

The average young person today in a country with a strong gamer culture will have spent 10,000 hours playing online games, by the age of 21. For children in the United States 10,080 hours is the exact amount of time you will spend in school from fifth grade to high school graduation if you have perfect attendance.” ~ Jane McGonigal

We anticipate Reality Is Broken will do for gaming culture what Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog did for the counterculture sustainability movement of the sixties, reining in a new kind of collective awareness and mainstream reverence for a practical ideology that will shape the course of culture for decades to come.

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Vi Hart’s Playful Mathematics: Flatland on a Möbius Strip

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What Victorian novellas have to do with higher mathematics, optical illusions and illustration.

Vi Hart has a rare gift: making math cool. She distills mathematical concepts in clever, engaging, relentlessly creative ways using visual metaphors like balloons, doodling, beadwork and food to illustrate anything from Platonic solids to hyperbolic planes to binary trees.

In this fantastic 7-minute video, two months in the making, Hart takes the iconic 1884 satirical novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, which applies Victorian knowledge of higher mathematics to a witty story about a fictional two-dimensional world and a humble square who tries to wrap his mind around a third dimension, and adapts it to a Möbius strip, a non-orientable looped surface that only has one side and one boundary component, with lovely hand-drawn illustration.

(For the definitive resource on the fascinating Möbius strip, do check out The Möbius Strip: Dr. August Möbius’s Marvelous Band in Mathematics, Games, Literature, Art, Technology, and Cosmology.)

Hart’s work reminds me of Robin Moore’s string math portraits from the 1980s and Kevin Van Aelst’s edible science, a living testament to the power of playfulness as a gateway to learning.

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Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





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HBO’s Temple Grandin: Recasting Autism

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Nearly a year ago, we had the pleasure of seeing author, animal scientist, Hug Machine inventor, and avid autism advocate Temple Grandin speak at TED 2010. A few months later, HBO released the semi-biographical film Temple Grandin, telling the story of the woman whose extraordinary work recast autism as “different” rather than “lesser” in the public eye and used the power of visual thinking to create more humane systems for animal farming. With Claire Danes as Grandin in a surprisingly excellent fit and powerful delivery, HBO earned nominations in 15 Emmy categories and won 5 awards for a film that’s part living manifesto for following your gut, part new ethos for our relationship to animals.

The thing is, the normal mind drops out the details. But the autism mind sees all the details. That’s more like the animal mind, because animals are centric thinkers — they think in pictures, they think in smells, they think in sounds.” ~ Temple Grandin

The film is now out on DVD and we couldn’t recommend it more.

See the real thing in her element with this fantastic TED talk on the importance of diversity of minds.

For more of Grandin’s remarkable work, we highly recommend Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior — an absolutely fascinating and deeply illuminating read on one of the great mysteries of science and philosophy: What goes on in the minds of animals.

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