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15 Minutes of Fame: McGonigal on why you're as awesome in real life as in WoW

From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

Last week, we gave you the lengthy part 1 of our interview with game designer and fellow WoW player Jane McGonigal. This week, by way of a re-introduction, we give you her most recent biographical note:
Jane McGonigal is the director of game research and development at the Institute for the Future. Her work has been featured in The Economist, Wired, and The New York Times, and on MTV, CNN, and NPR. In 2009, BusinessWeek called her one of the 10 most important innovators to watch, and Fast Company named her one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business. In 2010, Oprah Magazine chose her as one of the 20 most inspiring women in the world. She has given keynote addresses at TED, South by Southwest Interactive, and the Game Developers Conference and was a featured speaker at The New Yorker Conference. She has a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in performance studies and games research.

Okay, then – the lady knows her stuff. Pull up a chair and let's wrap up a visit with McGonigal by talking more about her own WoW experience and her take on how other WoW players should view their gaming hobby.

Read Part 1: Jane McGonigal on why gamers will change the world

15 Minutes of Fame: So Jane, let's talk about your own World of Warcraft experience. Did you start playing for work or for pleasure?

Jane McGonigal: I started playing for fun, and I played mostly through the Wrath of the Lich King campaign. I stopped in January of 2009 because my husband and I were having a bit too much fun with it. So we decided to stop for a while so I could write the book. We're sort of eagerly looking forward to coming back. We mention it not infrequently, like, "Oh, we'll come back soon. We'll take a week's vacation and just play." But that time hasn't popped itself out yet.

But it's one of those games that really grabs me. I'm definitely the kind of person who could easily turn into more than 20 hours a week on that game. I mean, you saw in the book the first time I sat down to play, it's like, we sat down at 1 in the afternoon -- and suddenly it's 3 in the morning, all we've had for dinner is like Cheetos and pretzels we ran out to the deli to buy ... It was like, "What?"

I play an undead priest. I'm very healer-type; it feels good. I actually find myself thinking about it sometimes in real life -- like you know, "If there were something I could do right now to have a little healing power, what would that be?"

We've talked about the tie between gaming and real life, and what gamers can learn from playing games. What is WoW teaching its players?

Well, I definitely think that there's a sense that the ambient sociability is important. I'm a super-introvert myself. If I'm not in a structured environment like a game, I can find it really intimidating to talk to people. For me, I know that if I'm in a game situation, I'm more likely to be social. And [through playing games like WoW], we can sort of build up our social endurance for being with other people, thinking of things to say ... It just sort of builds up the stamina that introverts naturally don't have.

With introverts, their dopamine systems tend to work more with internal thought than with external, social stimulation. Whereas with extroverts, they have the dopamine receptors going off when someone smiles at them; for them, it's like a hit of candy or crack cocaine, you know? And for introverts, that's not happening.

But when we're in game world, we do get motivated. We do get these dopamine hits from the game itself. When we're getting them around other people, it can kind of shift our neurochemistry. So it's interesting.

I wouldn't necessarily call it "learning" so much as "training." It's not a mental thing, that you're really going to have an "aha" moment. It's like, "Oh, yeah, being with other people, even if it's in a virtual world, is like part of this thing that makes me happy." It seems to have a trickle effect into real life. You're less likely to shy away from a large group or more likely to open your mouth. That's important for lots of reasons. It's important because for success in life, it's important to be able to open your mouth and talk to people you don't know. It's important for health. They say that people who feel like they can talk to strangers or talk to other people and have a positive experience of that live 10 years longer than anyone else, they're more likely to survive accident or injury ... It's kind of like this sort of health power-up, to be comfortable with other people in large groups.

So for me, it can just kinda be training.

Let's go back and talk more about your practical advice for gamers.

Definitely they are guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. Something I know from my research is that the average WoW player spends between 16 and 21 hours a week. I think that still tends to be the norm. So that totally fits perfectly within the maximum recommended game play, which is 21 hours a week.

I would say that the more the game is integrated with your real life, the more hours you could spend playing. For instance, when I was playing WoW, my husband and I would play in the same room on individual computers. It was a social activity we did together, and it brought our relationship closer in a really positive way to be collaborating in the game together and having this experience together. So that's not taking away from my real life; that's adding to my real life. If you're playing with coworkers and that's strengthening your relationship, or maybe you really feel you're taking the leadership qualities you're developing in your guild and you're applying them to your office or wherever you work ... As long as you feel like the game is a springboard to real life, then don't worry so much about the hours.

I do think bringing in and playing with people you know in real life is really important. I think trying to have face-to-face time with people -- you know, all the science about the positive impact of games shows that it really matters to be in the same room as people, that there are emotions that do not translate as easily online as they do in person, the kind of emotions that bond us to each other. So if you can be in the same room as people playing, that's positive.

WoW is the kind of game that takes more of a commitment than a lot of games like Angry Birds or FarmVille. What most people play is within what the scientists have shown, this great U-curve that shows increasing benefits starting from playing an hour a day and it keeps increasing up to between 21 and 28 hours a week -- the higher end of it if you're in a really stressful situation. If your life is really difficult, even up to 28 hours can be beneficial.

But it's important. You read that advice I gave, that practical advice for gamers? It really works best if you're using the game as a springboard for real life. You can do all sorts of social interaction online that is still really great for you in real life, but if you're not doing face-to-face, it sort of creates a compartmentalized success in virtual life but not in real life, or happiness in virtual life but not so happy in real life.

So I'm really encouraging players to see that springboard, to not see that they're a different version of themselves in games than they are in real life. They're the same person – they're totally the same person. You're that awesome all the time – you just have to have the motivation to be that awesome all the time.

Read Part 1: Jane McGonigal on why gamers will change the world. Learn more about McGonigal's ideas on gaming for a better world on her website, and see her on ongoing book tour at a city near you.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to an Olympic medalist and a quadriplegic raider. Know someone else we should feature? Email lisa@wowinsider.com.

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