Q&A With Jane McGonigal

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) interviewed researcher, game designer and author Jane McGonigal. Her newest book, “SuperBetter,” which releases September 15, explores a decade’s worth of scientific research into the ways games—including video games, sports and puzzles—change how people respond to stress, challenges and pain and how to cultivate new powers of recovery and resilience in everyday life simply by adopting what McGonigal calls a more gameful mindset. Read the interview below – with a big thanks to ESA for sharing! 

  1. Please briefly introduce yourself and your work.

janeI’m a researcher, author and game designer who has spent the past 15 years trying to prototype and provide scientific evidence for the ways in which games can help us become the best versions of ourselves: happier, braver, more resilient, better problem-solvers and better allies to our friends and family.

Most recently, my work has focused on how games can improve mental and physical health. There’s a rapidly growing body of evidence in the scientific literature that ordinary video games can be a powerful tool for treating depression, anxiety and even chronic pain. I’ve spent the past five years researching this topic – I’ve read literally more than 1,000 studies in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and medicine.

Now, I’m publishing my “SuperBetter” book to help get this entire, emerging field of research into the hands of the game-playing public and also game developers. I want the public to understand how video games can be played with purpose – that is, with the knowledge that you’re not just having fun, but you’re also developing important psychological resources, like creativity, determination, optimism, curiosity and resilience in the face of setbacks. And I want game developers to understand how to make games that bring even more of these benefits to their players.

  1. How did you first become interested in working with video games?

That’s a very long story that starts with me researching and making games as a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, although I guess it starts even earlier, when I was 10 years old and designed my first video game with ASCII art on a Commodore 64 computer.

But the really pivotal experience for me, more recently, in guiding me to the work I’m doing today was the mild traumatic brain injury that I suffered in 2009. Thirty-four days after the injury, I decided to try to bring my game designer skills to the problem, and I invented a game to help my brain heal and to deal with the severe depression and anxiety.

That has been a real turning point in my game development career, as that game (SuperBetter) has now been used by half a million people to improve their mental and physical health and has created some amazing research opportunities for me with organizations like the National Institutes of Health. All of this has convinced me that game design is going to be one of the most important areas of research and discovery in medicine and clinical psychology over the next decade.

  1. What excites you most in your day-to-day job?

Data! Scientific data is what excites me. Every time a new study on the real-life impact of gameplay comes out, I devour it.

Even more exciting is doing original research and seeing the results. For example, with SuperBetter, we’ve done two major studies so far. First, a randomized, controlled study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that playing SuperBetter for 30 days significantly reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, and increases optimism, social support and players’ self-confidence. The study also found that people who followed the SuperBetter rules for one month were significantly happier and more satisfied with their lives.

More recently, a clinical trial funded by the National Institutes of Health and conducted at Ohio State University Medical Research Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital found that the SuperBettergame improves mood, decreases anxiety and suffering, and strengthens family relationships during traumatic brain injury rehabilitation and recovery. Honestly, there is nothing more exciting than getting solid scientific evidence that a game you’ve made is changing people’s lives and helping them get happier and healthier from extremely difficult challenges.

Note from myself: It is interesting to see that Jane is addressing the four quadrants I always use to determine our key drives for game design: physical, mental, emotional and social elements. You can find them in the handouts (slide 34) for the Gamification Workshop presentation on this page. Of course these are based on the Insights model, which are based on Quinn… But I guess we – as human beings – are always looking for rational (mental), physical, emotional (social) and spiritual challenges: or active and passive events. Often spiritual is left out in favor of social. Maybe social can be the opposite of spiritual? Spiritual meaning: inside my mind, where as social means: outside my mind in interaction with others…?

Superbetter schema

  1. Where do you see video games in 10 years? What broader applications across society can we expect in games’ future?

A decade from now, ordinary video games will be understood as an important tool in creating mental health and well-being. I forecast with very high confidence that games will be used to treat depression, anxiety, pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a complement to, or in many cases be prescribed in lieu of, pharmaceutical treatment.
Note from myself: Obviously Jane is talking about serious games here. Since 2010 we have published a lot of serious games in for companies like Foot Locker Europe and NN Global. Unfortunately we cannot disclose all of our projects online, but the ones we are allowed to talk (and write) about can be found on our project page.

  1. What is your favorite video game and why?

I’ll go with the scientific literature here again, and say that Tetris has been the most extensively studied game for accomplishing everything from preventing flashbacks after witnessing a trauma – so it could be used as a cognitive vaccine against PTSD; to reducing cravings for cigarettes and junk food by 25 percent – so it can be used as a tool in behavior change and fighting addiction; to creating the same blood flow patterns in the brain as meditation – so it can be used to improve attention and improve the body’s ability to recover from stress.

Everyone should have Tetris on their phone. We should have PSAs explaining how to use it for all of these benefits. And I’m ready to give Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov the Nobel Prize in Games.

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Four out of five USA households own a game console


New Study Finds that Four out of Five American Households Own a Device Used to Play Video Games

April 14, 2015 – Washington, D.C. – More than 150 million Americans play video games, according to new research released today by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). The report, 2015 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry, also shows that 42 percent of Americans play video games regularly, or at least three hours per week.

Other key findings highlight the social nature of game play. According to the report, 56 percent of the most frequent gamers play with others and 54 percent play in multiplayer mode at least weekly. More than half of the most frequent game players say that video games help them connect with friends and about half of them say that video games enable them spend time with family.

Play Styles Xbox One“Video games provide a social setting where family and friends come together to connect, learn and have fun,” said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of ESA, the trade association that represents the U.S. video game industry. “The sheer number of people who regularly enjoy entertainment software and share those experiences with others underscores how video games have become ingrained in our culture.”

The report also found that about 60 percent of parents whose children are gamers play computer and video games with them at least weekly. More than three-quarters of parents say they play with their children because it is fun for the entire family and an opportunity to socialize. Additionally, 88 percent of parents whose children play games believe the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) video game ratings are either very or somewhat helpful in choosing games for their children.

“The ESRB is the gold standard for systems that for provide parents with guidance that allows them to make informed decisions,” Gallagher said.

The 2015 Essential Facts provides statistics on gamer demographics, the types of games played and the kinds of game platforms used, the top-selling video games and other industry sales information.

Notable findings include:

  • The average game player is 35 years old;
  • The most frequent female game player is on average 43 years old;
  • Women 18 years or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population than boys 18 years old or younger;
  • On average, gamers have been playing for 13 years; and
  • Consumers spent more than $22.41 billion on game content, hardware and accessories in 2014.

Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry is the most in-depth and targeted annual survey of its kind. It is conducted for ESA by Ipsos MediaCT, which surveyed more than 4,000 American households.

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Games as a Training Tool? Does it Work?

When I mention the topics of applied games, serious gaming and gamification, they are often greeted with scepticism. And for good reason; video games have had a very tumultuous history. 

By Luis Ramos 

Ever since their inception, critics have associated video games with a number of negative  consequences, like aggression, addiction and social isolation. In spite of this, the industry has thrived and grown into a $70.4 billion industry in 2013. This number is expected to top $86.1 billion by 2016 1. It is still the fastest growing entertainment sector, and with the advent of mobile gaming, the number of users exceeds that of any other form of entertainment. This makes video games as much a part of our modern lives as any other medium.

Yet, the mention of video games in a serious capacity is still met with many concerns. They are games after all, aren’t they? How could playing games possibly help us reach any organizational goals? Luckily, we can use the science of psychology to finds some answers.

For this article, I’ve chosen to home in on the topic of employee training. Also met with much resistance within the workplace, employee training is a vital tool for developing employee skills, fostering cooperation and increasing overall organizational adaptability. However employees, as well as managers, tend to react negatively to training, often labeling at as boring, unnecessary and a distraction from their ‘real’ work. This lack of engagement can seriously undermine the motivation of the employees, which in turn impacts the effectiveness of any training program being implemented.

If one were to pair the above mentioned with any possible scepticism on the use of video games as a training tool, they would surely conclude that it would be doomed to fail. However, one of the most important characteristics of any game is their ability to fully engage the player. By demanding the use of multiple senses, and providing a challenge that is just difficult enough to exceed the players skill level, games create a ‘flow’-experience: a temporary state in which a person feels detached from their surroundings and becomes completely engrossed by the task at hand. It is a state associated with performance at every level in many different disciplines.

Another reason video games can be so engaging is their ability to motivate the player. Here are some things video games do really well in order to motivate players to keep playing:

Visual representations of progress

A game will show you how far along you are and how much more you need to go. You are never left to guess if you are making any progress.

Multiple long-, mid- and short-term goals

Games are great at breaking up challenges into smaller goals. This is already apparent in the classical level structure that most games use.

Reward effort

A game often rewards the players for every action he or she undertakes. Whether it’s smashing some bricks with a jump or successfully dropping puzzle piece, the action is rewarded in one way or the other.

Rapid, frequent, consistent and clear feedback

Games tend to provide quick feedback for everything you do, enabling you to rapidly gage the effectiveness of your actions. Feedback ranges from small pinging sounds when you jump or grab an item, to on screen flashes that you are receiving damage and are in danger.

This is just a sampling of what games can do to influence and motivate peoples behavior. This ability to influence and motivate peoples behavior is what makes video games such a powerful training tool. Each of the above aspects can be expanded upon by further researching scientific literature on the relevant subjects, but we’ll leave that for another time.

So, now we have an idea of how it could work. But a more important question remains: Does it actually work?

Industrial and Organizational psychologists Traci Sitzmann and Katherine Ely set out to answer this very same question2. In their 2010 article, they compiled 55 reports that researched the effectiveness of training games, dubbed ‘simulation games’ in their article, and compared the results of these reports through statistical analysis.

What they found is that self-efficacy (the strength of one’s belief in one’s own ability to complete tasks and reach goals) was 20% higher for trainees receiving instruction via a simulation game than trainees in a comparison group. They also found that, on average, trainees receiving instruction via a simulation game had 11% higher declarative knowledge levels, 14% higher procedural knowledge levels, and 9% higher retention levels than trainees in the comparison group. This means that trainees receiving instruction via a simulation game were found to know more of what was taught, more of how to perform a task or action and remembered it better after an extended period of time. In addition to the above, another important find was that training games worked best when they were part of a training program. This allowed for post-play feedback session that improved results in all learning categories. For a more extensive report on the investigation, be sure to consult the article.

For an example of a successful application of serious gaming, we need look no further than the “Hot Talent” Game; a game we at BrandNewGame developed for one of the leading telecom retailers in the Netherlands. Check out the game here: http://www.brandnewgame.com/bizz/projects/belcompanys-hot-talent/ 

The company approached us with the objective of wanting to improve the understanding and application of the principles of cross- and upselling by their sales personnel. They had already developed a training program for the same purpose, but found they wanted to increase the amount that employees interacted with and applied the knowledge provided through training. The game placed the player in a store environment, where their task was to greet and engage customers in conversation, wherein they tried to discover a customers consumer profile. For instance: are you dealing with a casual consumer who doesn’t have a lot of product knowledge, or is the customer a gadget freak, who wants state of the art and is up to speed on the latest developments. When the customer profile was identified, the player had the task to match the right tone of voice to the profile, increasing the trust the customer had in the player. Doing this correctly resulted in the ability to make a better sale.

The results were impressive. A total of 680 employees played the game for an average of 40 times within the first 8 weeks after the game was deployed. Some employees even played the game 200 times! The game significantly increased the voluntary interactions the employees had with the training material, which in turn resulted in an increase of sales.

Research in the field of psychology keeps providing us with positive evidence for use of serious games for training. By combining the knowledge privy to us from the field of science with that of the field of game design, the possible results are realistic and significant. Furthermore, gaming provides us with a tool to convey knowledge and vision in a playful, dynamic and challenging way. On top of everything else, it can help relieve the stigma of training in the workplace, by changing the way we all look at training. Those who dare to challenge conventions will be able to reap the benefits of gaming as a training tool. Playing games just got a whole lot more interesting!

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Parents believe games are good for kids

From our friends at the ESA.


April 24, 2014 – Washington, DC – A majority of parents say playing video games benefits their children, according to new research released today by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). The report, 2014 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry, reveals that 56 percent of parents say video games are a positive part of their child’s life.

Other key findings include that 68 percent of families with children under 18 at home believe game play provides mental stimulation or education, and more than 50 percent believe games help them spend time together. Moreover, 58 percent of parents whose children are gamers play games with their kids at least monthly, and among parents who play with their kids, 88 percent believe video games are fun for the entire family.

“Parents across America recognize the widespread benefits of video games, including education, mental stimulation, and the bonding opportunities they create for families,” said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of ESA, the trade association that represents the U.S. video game industry. “Video games are a favorite pastime enjoyed by men and women of all ages, and millions worldwide who share their game play experiences with friends and family.”

The report also found that parents monitor their children’s game play. In fact, 95 percent of parents report paying attention to the content of the games their children play, and 91 percent are present when games are purchased or rented. Additionally, 88 percent of parents whose children play games believe the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) video game ratings are either very or somewhat helpful in choosing games for their children.

“Our industry has an unparalleled commitment to helping parents make informed entertainment choices, and these findings underscore the value of the ESRB rating system,” Gallagher said. (Bart adds:) Personally I strongly advice all parents to play all games their children play and reflect on what they play in an interactive way with their children. Not all games are suitable for all kids – and you should invite them to play a broad variety of games – not just one genre over-and-over again. Especially since kids are very sensitive to patter-recognition (compare why kids love to read the same comic over and over or cartoons over and over) which makes it so addictive to play. It’s good to stimulate to play multiple genres, set rules for when to play (after homework is done and checked) and never more than 1 or 2 hours continuously.

The 2014 Essential Facts also provides statistics on gamer demographics; the types of games played and the kinds of game platforms used; the top-selling video games; and other industry sales information. Notable findings include:

  • 181.3 million Americans play video games;
  • 51 percent of U.S. households own a game console, and those that do own an average of 2;
  • The average game player is 31 years old, and 39 percent of game players – the largest age segment – are 36 or older;
  • Gamers play on-the-go: 44 percent play on smartphones, and 33 percent play on wireless devices;
  • Casual and social game play on mobile devices and online increased in popularity by 55 percent from 2012 to 2013; and
  • Consumers spent more than $21 billion on game content, hardware, and accessories in 2013.

Essential Facts is the most in-depth and targeted survey of its kind. It is conducted by Ipsos MediaCT, gathering data from more than 2,200 nationally representative households (Bart adds: in the USA).

ESA offers services to interactive entertainment software publishers, including conducting business and consumer research; providing legal and policy analysis; advocating on First Amendment, intellectual property, and technology/e-commerce issues; managing a global content protection program; owning and operating E3; and representing video game industry interests in federal and state government relations. For more information, please visit www.theESA.com

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Newzoo outlook on the Gaming market 2012

My good friend Peter Warman from Newzoo held this presentation during the Game Developers Congress in 2012

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Console Gamers and their Second Screen

From my friends at Newzoo an infographic that displays the use of tablets amongst console gamers.

Infographic Newzoo Second Screen

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Students in USA are messaging 3 hours per day!

>I was surprised recently that big telephone companies like Vodafone and KPN (The Netherlands) didn’t foresee the fact that apps could gradually make certain functions of their business proposition redundant. To name one example: texting / messaging. Since Whatsapp (do we still remember Budweiser’s Wassup) telephone companies are loosing loads and loads of turnover…
And it must have been their biggest chunk of turnover if you take a look at this Infographic from OnlineEducation.net According to this research students spend 3 HOURS (on average) PER DAY sending text messages to each other…!!!

This is incredible, that’s even more than watching TV!

I recently received a hand-written note from a guy aged 25… it was illegible and looked like the handwriting of my grandfather AFTER he died… If 82% of all students prefer to use digital tools to learn, why are we still not using games as a training tool on schools I wonder. Are teachers really that terrified that they will lose their jobs? I think teachers will become the admins of the future teaching playground, but that’s another subject. For now, go check out this great infographic – and a BIG thanks to Lessie for keeping me posted on interesting shizzle for the peepz!

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Top 200 Brands and their advertising spend in the USA

I received a link to this infographic from Lessie Hampton from Marketing Degree and Ad Age. I think it’s the LONGEST inforgraphic I ever saw…! 😉

You might want to pursue these brands… haha.

Money money money money, money!
Top 200 Brands Advertising Spends
Designed by Marketing Degree, to see the research please click here


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Gamers research USA – Thanks to the ESA (Dan Hewitt)


Report Finds More Women, Adults Play Games

June 7, 2011 – Washington, DC – 72 percent of American households play video games and 82 percent of gamers are adults according to new research released today by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). In a report released at E3, the world’s leading video game event, the data presented a consumer base that is increasingly diverse and receiving interactive game content on myriad platforms.
The report, 2011 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry, also found 42 percent of gamers are women and that women age 18 or older represent more than one third of the game-playing population. In addition, purchases of digital full games, digital add-on content, mobile apps, subscriptions and social network gaming accounted for 24 percent of game sales in 2010, generating $5.9 billion in revenue.

“Our industry’s innovative titles are reaching new consumers in broader, deeper and more-engaging ways,” said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of the ESA. “Technological advancements and terrific entertainment experiences in our industry make it possible for people of all ages to enjoy games at home or on the go, and the creativity of our developers and publishers leads to an ever-expanding variety of video games to choose from in both digital and physical formats.”
The survey also found that parents remain highly involved in their children’s game play and see several benefits of entertainment software. Forty-five percent of parents report playing computer and video games with their children at least weekly and nine out of ten parents pay attention to the content of the games their children play. In addition, 68 percent of parents believe that game play provides mental stimulation or education, 57 percent believe games encourage their family to spend time together, and 54 percent believe that game play helps their children connect with their friends.

Other findings of the survey include:

  • The average game player is 37 years old, while the average game purchaser is 41 years old;
  • Sixty-five percent of gamers play games with other gamers in person;
  • More than half (55 percent) of gamers play games on their phones or handheld devices;
  • Eighty-six percent of parents are aware of the Entertainment Software Rating Board rating system, and 98 percent of these parents are confident in the accuracy of the ratings;
  • Parents are present when games are purchased or rented 91 percent of the time; and
  • Consumers spent $25.1 billion on game content, hardware and accessories in 2010.

The research for the 2011 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry was conducted by Ipsos MediaCT and is the most in-depth and targeted survey of its kind, gathering data from almost 1,200 nationally representative households that have been identified as owning either or both a video game console or a personal computer used to run entertainment software.
The Entertainment Software Association is the U.S. association dedicated to serving the business and public affairs needs of companies publishing interactive games for video game consoles, handheld devices, personal computers, and the Internet. The ESA offers services to interactive entertainment software publishers including a global anti-piracy program, hosting the E3 Expo, conducting business and consumer research, representing the video game industry in federal and state government relations, First Amendment and intellectual property protection efforts.

For more information, please visit www.theESA.com.

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Stunning research about iPad usage


Information (the numbers) taken from website Advertising Age:

Research done by Ipsos shows that over 50% of parents let children play games on their iPad that are not really suitable for them. I’ve been hearing this around my social network as well, but is that really a bad thing? I remember I was playing cops and robbers even before I had seen Miami Vice. Shooting people with fake-revolvers was fun. Can’t we compare playing shooter or aggressive games with playing in real-life? If you look at what Tom & Jerry did to each other you might wonder if those animation series should be rated 18+ or ‘Adult-only’… for some reason, no one seems to care….until it comes to games…?

By the Numbers

  • 18% of parents will let their tween boys aged 9-12 play video games rated adult only, and 36% will let them play games rated mature, provided a parent is playing too.
  • 20% of parents will let children 6-12 go with them to R rated movies.
  • 23% of children 6-12 regularly visit social networking sites and 41% of kids 11-12 do so, though membership in the sites is supposed to be limited to 13 and up.
  • By age 11, half of kids have cellphones. Half of the time it’s the parents’ idea.
  • Kids in the household are huge drivers of iPad penetration. 10% of households with children under 13 now have iPads, vs. only 3% in households without children 6-12.
  • 35% of households with children 6-12 plan to purchase some brand of tablet computer in the next year.
  • Over half of parents say their children should be able to go online on their own by age 6.

Read the full article at Advertising Age

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