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Currently there are more than half a billion people worldwide playing online games at least an hour a day — and 183 million in the US alone. The younger you are, the more likely you are to be a gamer — 97% of boys under 18 and 94% of girls under 18 report playing videogames regularly. And the average young person racks up 10,000 hours of gaming by the age of 21. That’s almost exactly as much time as they spend in a classroom during all of middle school and high school if they have perfect attendance. Most astonishingly, 5 million gamers in the U.S are spending more than 40 hours a week playing games — the same as a full time job!
Why are we increasingly turning to games? According to my research, it’s because games do a better job than ordinary life of provoking our most powerful positive emotions — like curiosity, optimism, pride, and a desire to join forces with others to achieve something extraordinary. Games also, increasingly, are a particularly effective way to bond with our friends and family — strengthening our real-life and online social networks in ways that no other kind of social interaction can.
That’s what I mean when I say — in the title of my new book — that Reality is Broken.” The fact that so many people of all ages, all over the world, are choosing to spend so much time in game worlds is a sign of something important, a truth that we urgently need to recognize.
The truth is this: in today’s society, computer and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy. Games are providing rewards that reality is not. They are teaching and inspiring and engaging us in ways that reality is not. They are bringing us together in ways that reality is not. And unless something dramatic happens to reverse the resulting exodus, we’re fast on our way to becoming a society in which a substantial portion of our population devotes its greatest efforts to playing games, creates its best memories in game environments, and experiences its biggest successes in game worlds.
Fortunately, however, this temporary exodus is not a complete waste of time!
When we play a good game, we get to practice being the best version of ourselves: We become more optimistic, more creative, more focused, more likely to set ambitious goals, and more resilient in the face of failure. And when we play multiplayer games, we become more collaborative and more likely to help others. In fact, we like and trust each other more after we play a game together — even if we lose! And more importantly, playing a game with someone is an incredibly effective way to get to know their strengths and weaknesses–as well as what motivates them. This is exactly the kind of social knowledge we need to be able to cooperate and collaborate with people to tackle real-world challenges.