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Catching up with: Jane McGonigal, 2008 CFM Lecturer

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

This the first in a series of updates on various interesting folk you have been introduced to through CFM lectures or our the “artists interpreting the future of museums” installations at the AAM annual meeting. 

The fabulous talk Dr. Jane McGonigal gave in December 2008 on “Gaming is the Future of Museums” was the first public event for CFM, and it was a wild success. (You can watch an excerpt from the lecture here.) Jane went on to publish “Reality is Broken,” arguing that gaming can be harnessed to do good in the real world. She has also created a series of games that demonstrate this thesis, including:

  • Cryptozoofor the American Heart Association, which inspires people to get out and move by challenging them to research and imitate fictional animals. This game is part of a trend of using games for health including the popular Wii Fit.
  • Evoke, developed for the World Bank, which recruited young adults in Africa to solve global problems. Nearly 20,000 people from 150 countries participated. A handful of the game’s best innovators were selected to be mentored by business leaders and experienced social innovators and given seed funding to further develop their concepts.
  • Just last year Jane created Find the Future for the New York Public Library (“the first game in the world in which winning means writing a book”). It launched with a one-time, overnight adventure in the Library’s Schwarzman building in May 2011, before segueing to an on-going online game. Here’s a great video, under 8 minutes, documenting the joyful chaos of 500 people locked in the library overnight with a giant plush lion mascot.

These accomplishments came in the face of great challenges. In 2009 Jane suffered a concussion when she stood up into a cabinet door, and she was in the unlucky minority of people whose concussions do not resolve quickly. She struggled through over a year of dizziness, migraines, inability to concentrate, fatigue and depression.

Four weeks after receiving strict orders from her doctor to refrain from anything that triggered her symptoms (which, as she notes included just about everything that makes life worth living) she decided “I’m either going to kill myself, or I’m going to turn this into a game.” And she did, creating what eventually became SuperBetter, a game that helps people recover from injury or illness or pursue personal wellness goals. One guy is even using it to improve his writing.

In this recent talk for TED, Jane speaks eloquently of her injury, her recovery, SuperBetter and (not incidentally) how gaming can improve our quality of life.  I recommend you watch! Jane promises it will add 7 minutes to your life…

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  1. I'm fascinated with the potential uses of games to enrich museum visitor's experiences – visiting my favorite museums have always made me feel like playing!

  2. Hi Richard! Glad you liked the clip of the lecture. We only had copyright permission from Dr. McGonigal to keep the full recording up for a limited time, so it is no longer available on the web. However, we published an article based on the lecture in Museum magazine in early 2009. If you email me at emerritt (at) I will try to find a way for you to access the article.

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