Are you ready for an epic win?

I don’t know about you, but I stopped paying attention to the news media a few days ago. I got fed up with all the stupid gossip and mudslinging. The headlines. So childish. In Britain, immensely much more time seems to be wasted, certainly right now, on silly bickering than on accomplishing something positive. 

There is a big difference between behaving like a whiny, envious child that complains about others and being childlike and unhampered in your enthusiasm and energy.

There is nothing wrong with playing and with playing games. In fact, we all need to learn to play more. In a positive way!




Jane McGonigal did her PhD at Berkeley, has been designing games since the year 2000, and works for The Institute for the Future.

In 2010, Jane’s above talk made me ask some questions about the UK, such as “Does the UK have a big gaming culture?” So I did a few searches and found a survey by PopCap, about gaming in the US and the UK (pdf).

Two differences struck me:

Only 17% of UK-based social gamers chose “connect with others” as a reason for playing, compared with 28% of their US counterparts.

US-based social gamers are far more likely to play with strangers than their UK counterparts (41% vs. 29%).

I expect that those differences will even be greater for real-life situations. Almost all English people and perhaps most Brits are socially awkward and very uncomfortable with the idea of speaking with a stranger. 

At a local network meeting here in Portsmouth where I’ve been living for over a decade, I once heard an English woman state boldly, in public, that it was difficult for her to speak in public when she didn’t have the advantage of alcohol.

There was no alcohol at that meeting. 

By saying what she said – in public, without alcohol – she indicated that what she was saying wasn’t actually true.

But it is how she thinks of herself, possibly because she was told a long time ago, over and over and over again – as I was too after I moved to England – that a good woman should occasionally be seen, yet certainly never heard, and that her demeanor should be demure.

It’s strangely contradictory, as playfulness and flexibility are quite a British thing too, aren’t they?

Maybe that needs to come out into the open more. In the end, maybe it’s all about seeing weaknesses as strengths and using them.

Oh, that damn British class system and the stifling inequality and insecurity it results in! Those Victorian ideas about what a good Englishwoman is supposed to be like. And that “establishment” thing. It keeps people boxed in.

I think many Britons would love to learn how to play well with others better, cooperate with one another, and with those darned, dreaded strangers and have more fun in life.

Might getting into gaming help? Perhaps.

A little bit later in 2010, I interviewed another brilliant American woman, one of the fastest risers in academia in the US at the time. She’s also an entrepreneur, has founded several businesses and for example developed the ouch-less lead test (for children who may have been exposed to lead poisoning, for example through lead-based paints).

I’d met her when she was a post-doc at WHOI (a research facility in the US, near Boston). She had seen me at WHOI where I was meeting with someone on whose work I had written a comment. He thought I was a fully fledged professor, called the dean after I fessed up that I wasn’t at all, and I got invited to attend a talk (which was where Robyn spotted me, I think).

The next day, she and another woman approached me at the AGU conference that I was there for (in the US, in Boston); I was convener of a session on fungi in the marine environment (another thing I wasn’t “supposed” to do; it got me invited to speak at a conference in Hong Kong). Later, I e-mailed her and we stayed in touch for years. One thing we had in common besides science was that we both had parrots at some point. (Parrots are highly intelligent and very playful.)

Today, she is a provost. Today, Wikipedia has a page on her. Among several other positions (ODU, ASU, NSF), she previously served as a department chair at the University of Massachusetts at Boston (which she was when I interviewed her). She founded the School for the Environment there later. 

You know what I think Robyn’s secret is? She loves to play! She loves to explore! 

Robyn was an avid gamer and many of the people around her were too, so I asked her to comment on McGonigal’s views during that interview in 2010.

Gaming helps people find solutions and cut back considerably on the time it takes to find them.

But Robyn also used to be into another kind of playing.

She was actually on her way to becoming a professional musician when a turn of fate pushed her toward science, an area that she did not think she was particularly good at.

And she’s always refused to let people put her into a box, as happened so often when she grew up, the daughter of an Irish dad and a native American mother who weren’t financially comfortable. On the reservation, she was “the white kid”. Elsewhere, she was “the Indian kid”. That appears to have made her determined to stop anyone from boxing her in and setting boundaries for her. It challenged her to push the envelope to see what else was out there, how much more was possible.

Robyn and I have always done the things that we were not expected to do, not supposed to do. In other countries, that gets you places. In the UK, with its rigid social rules, it tends to get you rejected, doesn’t it?

Don’t pay too much attention to that in the sense of letting it stop you. Use it as a signpost. Let that rejection drive you, show you the way toward places where there is plenty of room for you so that you can flourish. Play! Explore!

That way, you get to change the world.

Gaming – playing – can help break Britons out of their moulds and develop a strong can-do attitude, learn to take initiative much more often and experience this strong sense of empowerment.

“Whoa! I can really make a difference!”

Epic wins… there is nothing quite like it.



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