Jane McGonigal

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Jane McGonigal
Jane McGonigal by christopher michel in 2021.jpg
Born (1977-10-21) October 21, 1977 (age 44)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
OccupationGame designer, game researcher
Alma materFordham University
University of California, Berkeley
SpouseKiyash Monsef (m. 2005)
RelativesKelly McGonigal (Identical Twin)

Jane McGonigal (born October 21, 1977) is an American game designer and author who advocates the use of mobile and digital technology to channel positive attitudes[which?] and collaboration in a real world context.


Early years[edit]

McGonigal was brought up in New Jersey.[1] Her parents are teachers who emphasized intellectual attainment. Her identical twin sister, Kelly McGonigal, is a well known psychologist.[2]


McGonigal received her BA in English from Fordham University in 1999[3] and her PhD in performance studies from the University of California, Berkeley in 2006.[4][5] She was the first in the department to study computer and video games.[6]

Personal life[edit]

After earning her BA in English, McGonigal started developing her first commercial games. In 2006, at the age of 28, she earned a PhD in performance studies and continued developing games. In 2009, she suffered a debilitating concussion that helped her in the development of a game, Jane the Concussion Slayer, for treating her concussion and other similar conditions; the game was later renamed SuperBetter.[7] In 2011, her first book was published.


McGonigal at Foo Camp in 2009

McGonigal writes and speaks about alternate reality games and massively multiplayer online gaming, especially about the way that collective intelligence can be generated and used as a means for improving the quality of human life or working towards the solution of social ills. She has stated that gaming should be moving "towards Nobel Prizes."[8]

McGonigal has been called "the current public face of gamification".[9] Despite this, McGonigal has objected to the word, stating, "I don't do 'gamification,' and I'm not prepared to stand up and say I think it works, I don't think anybody should make games to try to motivate somebody to do something they don't want to do. If the game is not about a goal you're intrinsically motivated by, it won't work."[10]


As a designer McGonigal became known for location-based and alternate reality games.[11] She has taught game design and game studies at the San Francisco Art Institute and the University of California, Berkeley. In 2008 she became the Director of Game Research & Development at Institute for the Future[12] and in 2012 Chief Creative Officer at SuperBetter Labs.[13]


Jane has been developing commercial games since 2006, some of which are listed in the following chart:

Year Title Organization Credit
2012 SuperBetter SuperBetter Labs Chief Creative Officer
2011 Find the Future: The Game New York Public Library Director[14]
2010 Evoke World Bank Institute Creator
2009 Cryptozoo American Heart Association Director
2008 Top Secret Dance-Off Creator (under pseudonym Punky McMonsef)
2008 Superstruct Institute for the Future Director
2008 The Lost Ring McDonald's and The Lost Sport Director
2007 World Without Oil ITVS Interactive Participation architect w/ Ken Eklund[15]
2006 Cruel 2 B Kind Concept and design w/ Ian Bogost
2005 Last Call Poker 42 Entertainment Live Events Lead[citation needed]
2005 PlaceStorming [16]
2004 I Love Bees 42 Entertainment Community Lead/PuppetMaster [17]
2004 Demonstrate [citation needed]
2004 TeleTwister [citation needed]


In July 2009, Jane suffered a concussion after hitting her head in her office. The symptoms were severe, lasted for several weeks, and led to her feeling suicidal. She requested her friends give her tasks to do each day.[10]

Wanting to recover from her condition, she created a game to treat it. The game was initially called Jane the Concussion-Slayer (after Buffy the Vampire Slayer), then renamed to SuperBetter.[18] McGonigal was able to raise $1 million to fund an expanded version of the game.[10] Additionally, she has collaborated on commissioned games for the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.[citation needed]


On January 20, 2011, McGonigal's first book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How they Can Change the World, was published. In this book, McGonigal looks not only at massively multiplayer online gaming and alternate reality games but also at games more widely. Using current research from the positive psychology movement, McGonigal argues that games contribute powerfully to human happiness and motivation, a sense of meaning, and the development of community.

The book was met with a favorable reception from The Los Angeles Times,[19] and Wired,[20] and mixed reviews from The Independent.[21] The book received criticism from some quarters, notably the Wall Street Journal, which felt that her thesis, which claimed to use games to "fix" everyday life by giving it a sense of achievement and making it seem more fulfilling and optimistic, made "overblown" claims from minor examples, and did not address conflicting individual goals and desires, or the influence of "evil".[22] The New York Times Book Review[23] also criticized some points in her book, calling out the lack of evidence demonstrating that in-game behavior and values could translate into solutions to real world problems such as poverty, disease and hunger.

On September 15, 2015,[24] McGonigal's second book, SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver, and More Resilient, was published by Penguin Press. It was #7 on the New York Times Best Seller: Advice, How-to and Miscellaneous List its debut week.

McGonigal has a chapter giving advice in Tim Ferriss' book Tools of Titans.


Date Award Description
2010 Named in O: The Oprah Magazine "2010 O Power List" Named in O: The Oprah Magazine as one of 20 important women of 2010 on the "2010 O Power List"[25]
2008 Named one of the Top 20 Most Important Women in videogaming [26]
2008 South by Southwest Interactive Award for Activism Awarded for World Without Oil [27]
2006 Listed on MIT Technology Review's TR100 Named one of the world's top innovators under the age of 35 by MIT's Technology Review.[28]
2005 2005 Innovation Award from the International Game Developers Association and a 2005 Games-related Webby Award. For I Love Bees, the Halo 2 promotion.[29][30]


External video
Jane McGonigal Meet the Media Guru 1.jpg
video icon Jane McGonigal: Massively multi-player... thumb-wrestling?, TED Talks, published November 15, 2013
  1. Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, ISBN 978-1-5942-0285-8, (20 January 2011)
  2. SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient, ISBN 978-1594206368 (15 September 2015).


  1. ^ Joiner, Whitney (2011-06-22). "Super Girl". ELLE. Retrieved 2019-03-14.
  2. ^ "Jane McGonigal Sees the Future in Games". rvatech. 2013-06-20. Retrieved 2019-03-14.
  3. ^ Wilson, David McKay. "Jane McGonigal: Real Gamer" (PDF). Fordham.edu. Retrieved 2 October 2012.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ "Graduate Alumni". tdps: theater dance & performance studies, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
  5. ^ ?http://iftf.org/what-we-do/who-we-are/advisory-council/jane-mcgonigal/
  6. ^ McGonigal, Jane (2011). Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Penguin Books. pp. 8. ISBN 978-1-59420-285-8.
  7. ^ Hartlaub, Peter (4 March 2012). "Jane McGonigal: Game on with 'SuperBetter'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  8. ^ Strickland, Eliza. (July 31, 2007) Play Peak Oil Before You Live It Archived 2008-12-31 at the Wayback Machine, Salon.com. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  9. ^ Burkeman, Oliver (March 15, 2011). "SXSW 2011: The internet is over". The Guardian. London.
  10. ^ a b c Feiler, Bruce (27 April 2012). "She's Playing Games With Your Lives". New York Times. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
  11. ^ Joiner, Whitney (June 22, 2011), "Super Girl", Elle
  12. ^ Davis, Kim (March 27, 2010) Virtual gamers a 'human resource' in real world's epic of survival (archived), The Vancouver Sun Retrieved April 2, 2010
  13. ^ SuperBetter Labs Team Archived 2012-05-29 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved August 8, 2012
  14. ^ Indvik, Lauren (1 April 2011). "New York Public Library Invites 500 to Overnight Scavenger Hunt". Mashable, Inc. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
  15. ^ "Contact, Credits". World Without Oil. Retrieved 2013-06-14.
  16. ^ "Vectors Journal: PlaceStorming". Vectors.usc.edu. Retrieved 2013-06-14.
  17. ^ "UC Berkeley Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium - Bio: Jane McGonigal". Atc.berkeley.edu. Retrieved 2013-06-14.
  18. ^ Hartlaub, Peter (4 March 2012). "Jane McGonigal: Game on with 'SuperBetter'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  19. ^ Nimura, Janice P. (February 6, 2011). "Book review: 'Reality Is Broken'". Los Angeles Times.
  20. ^ Andersen, Michael (January 20, 2011). "Jane McGonigal Thinks Reality is Broken, and She Wants to Fix It". originally posted at ARGNet. Wired.com.
  21. ^ Hall, Julian (January 30, 2011). "Reality is Broken, By Jane McGonigal". The Independent. Archived from the original on February 3, 2011. Retrieved February 9, 2011.
  22. ^ Klavan, Andrew (January 21, 2011). "Upgrading the World". The Wall Street Journal.
  23. ^ Saletan, William (February 11, 2011). "The Computer Made Me Do It". New York Times.
  24. ^ McGonigal, Jane (2015-09-15). SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient--Powered by the Science of Games. Penguin Press. ISBN 9781594206368.
  25. ^ Prendergast, John; Brockovich, Erin; Hillenbrand, Laura; Gilbert, Elizabeth (September 14, 2010), "2010 O Power List", Oprah Magazine, pp. 18–19, archived from the original on 2010-09-18, retrieved 11 November 2010
  26. ^ Ruberg, Bonnie (May 21, 2008). "Women in Games — the Gamasutra Top 20: Jane McGonigal", Gamasutra. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
  27. ^ "World Without Oil wins Activism web award". ITVS Interactive Press Release. 2008-03-11. Archived from the original on 2008-05-16. Retrieved 2008-03-15.
  28. ^ Williams, Mark (2006) "Young Innovators Under 35: Jane McGonigal — Designing games with new realities", MIT Technology Review. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
  29. ^ "Archive: Innovation". Games Developer Choice Awards. Archived from the original on 2006-03-26. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  30. ^ "2005 Webby nominees and winners". Webby Awards. 2005. Archived from the original on May 26, 2012. Retrieved September 18, 2010.

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