Reality is Broken

First off, I should make it clear that I have not yet read Jane McGonigal's hotly promoted and best-selling book, Reality is Broken (lack of time, not lack of interest). But I've read a lot of talk about it, and that talk has launched thoughts whirring around in my head.


I would like to share them with you.


The Long Game


Jane is wrong. We don't need to invent a Long Game. We have one already: Life.


It's a collaborative, social game, life; you won't even get past the starting levels in a solo attempt. It's a casual game, and you can go with the flow, dabbling in doing whatever you think is best. Or maybe you can read all the strategy guides and min/max it like the hardest of the hardcore.


There isn't one complete leaderboard, but you can score it any number of ways depending on your preferred play style, and even compare against your friends, just like on Facebook: money, grades, hours worked, prestige, sex partners, adorable grandchildren.


The narrative is a little iffy in spots, but it's an addictive and varied game, life is. Sure, it's a grind sometimes, but it'll make you laugh and cry before you're through. It'll inspire fiero.


It's the best game ever.


...Then Again


Jane is right. Reality is broken. This game we're all playing together? It is completely broken.


It is the worst-balanced piece of crap you will ever play. Access to resources is distributed unevenly and blatantly unfairly. How well you do is heavily influenced by your entirely random starting position.


If you luck into a great spawn point, you're almost certainly going to have a great game. If you have the ill luck to start out poor -- especially poor and female -- well... it's not like playing the same game at all, is it? The same strategies certainly won't work.


As it happens, my starting position in the Great Game was a lucky one. A few points against me: I'm female, I sometimes have weight problems, and I could have started out a lot richer. But then again: I'm white, I'm heterosexual, I'm kinda cute, and I occupy a fairly high socioeconomic class in one of the wealthiest societies ever built in this game.


This has brought me (and if you're reading this blog, probably you, too) advantages that I often take for granted. As I child, I had easy access to nutritious food and clean water. I got easy antibiotics for my frequent bouts of strep throat. I was vaccinated. I had access to countless books from an early age, and the leisure time to read them. I was educated, even after I began menstruation, and I was self-determining once I reached adulthood: I chose my career, my spouse, my home.


But game economy and resource distribution aren't the whole problem. Players' experiences are very much at the mercy of other players; a terrible design, if you ask me. A single griefer can abuse, rape, or otherwise completely destroy the play experience for another player. They may in time be penalized for it -- even removed from the game entirely -- but by then the damage is done, isn't it?


Why I'm An Activist


Jane says reality is broken. I've been saying that a long time in a slightly different way: Life isn't fair.


But this is why I'm an activist, at the heart of it. Because life isn't fair, but we can make it fair, by inches.


If you've been reading my blog for more than, say, ten minutes, you've likely cottoned to the fact that I am a strident feminist. I am also anti-racist, to the utmost of my ability. I support the rights of people who are gay, fat, trans, disabled. I support social welfare programs that nurse the sick, feed the hungry, educate the ignorant.


It's because we're all playing this messed-up broken game together, and I'm not doing so well because I'm a better player, or because I'm a better human being. It's because I hit the freaking jackpot for genes and resources. I am excruciatingly aware of that. And so I feel like I have to use what I have to at least try, try, try to help some of the other players who didn't win big on their starting roll.


It's too far broken to fix all at once, mind, and focusing on the massive flaws in our shared ruleset will lead to despair. I know that the problem of, say, sex trafficking in India is much too big for me to solve on my own. But this is a collaborative game, and if I try to fix one little broken thing by calling out a racist comment... and you try to fix one little broken thing by donating ten bucks to Heifer International... maybe we'll get somewhere, given enough time.


Lucky us, it is a thousand-year game. We're playing it right now. And the way to win it is to level the playing field.


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