Altered States

Jane McGonigal — How She Predicted COVID in 2010, Becoming the Expert of Your Own Future, Trust Warfare, the 10-Year Winter, and How to Cultivate Optimism (#579)

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Just write a journal entry from this future. It will literally change your brain forever. That future is now forever imaginable to you, and it only took five minutes.

— Jane McGonigal

Jane McGonigal (@avantgame) is a future-forecaster and a world-renowned designer of alternate reality games that improve real lives and solve real problems. She’s the Director of Games Research & Development at the Institute for the Future and the lead instructor for their series on the Coursera platform. She also teaches the course How to Think Like a Futurist at Stanford University.

Jane is the New York Times bestselling author of Reality Is Broken and SuperBetter, and the forthcoming Imaginable: How to See the Future Coming and Feel Ready for Anything—Even Things That Seem Impossible Today. Her TED talks on how games can make a better world and the game that can give you 10 extra years of life have more than 15 million views. Her innovative games and ideas have been recognized by the World Economic Forum, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, O magazine, and The New York Times, among many others.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#579: Jane McGonigal — How She Predicted COVID in 2010, Becoming the Expert of Your Own Future, Trust Warfare, the 10-Year Winter, and How to Cultivate Optimism

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to revisit Jane’s previous appearance on the show? Listen to our conversation here, which finds us discussing real-world problems solved with games or by gamers, how Jane’s career path was guided by recovery from a concussion, the health benefits of Tetris and Call of Duty, post-traumatic growth and post-ecstatic growth, favorite documentaries, efficacious morning rituals, and much more.

#93: Jane McGonigal on Getting More Done with Less Stress and The Health Benefits of Gaming
  • Connect with Jane McGonigal:

Website | Twitter


  • Good video games to play for quieting your mind before bedtime, and an update on research we discussed during Jane’s last visit that linked Tetris positively to preventing episodes of PTSD. [07:16]
  • Find yourself waking up for a few hours in the middle of the night? It’s perfectly natural. Here’s how to deal with it. [11:13]
  • From a research standpoint, why is Tetris uniquely effective at treating PTSD? [13:34]
  • McGonigal to McNostradamus: what spooky thing happened when, in 2010, Jane led 20,000 gamers in a social simulation trying to imagine the world of 2020? 10 years later, what does Jane consider to be the most important outcome of this exercise? [15:31]
  • Further predictions from this 2010 simulation and another one that ran simultaneously — including a tick-borne pandemic that could make people allergic to meat (and how the world might adjust to such a scenario). [22:25]
  • What predicted threat does Jane see as having a silver lining, and what economic concepts and policies have recently “radicalized” her? [40:59]
  • Predictions for the future of cryptocurrency as politics get involved, and how current play-to-earn gaming platforms may have to adapt. [50:25]
  • Cult recruitment and podcasting in the age of trust warfare. [54:21]
  • Pornography always finds a way. [1:00:11]
  • What is urgent optimism? [1:10:38]
  • Future Fridays and habits to cultivate for feeling good when contemplating an uncertain future. [1:13:58]
  • Future power examples: small preparations Jane has found helpful toward easing her more comfortably into what tomorrow has in store for us. [1:18:54]
  • Do you have an action plan for total electrical blackout or climate migration? Here are some preventative and reactive steps Jane’s been thinking about, and how I address such problems to people who may be politically disinclined to consider them at all. [1:24:44]
  • Three questions you can ask to measure your urgent optimism and give you a sense of which of those three habits or skills you might want to practice more, and an example of how Jane’s recently applied these questions. [1:31:46]
  • Jane details an Urgent Optimist group activity you can join to better spot the future’s hopeful signals — especially if you’re hardwired to only see what’s in a shadow of perpetual pessimism. [1:39:41]
  • Journaling from the future as a form of specificity training. [1:43:14]
  • Who Alvin Toffler was, and how Jane feels about his maxim that “it’s more important to be imaginative and insightful than to be 100 percent right” about the future. [1:47:29]
  • Why Jane thinks the technological solutions to climate change will rely more on socio optimism than techno-optimism, and what these solutions may look like. [1:52:05]
  • Jane’s recommendations for people who would like to study incentives and how they might be applied to solving the world’s biggest problems. [1:57:10]
  • Further resources, audience asks, and final thoughts. [2:00:58]


“Building urgent optimism is like following a string out of a labyrinth. You’re taking all these twists and turns. You’ve got your radar up, so you’re going to hear about weird new risks. You’re going to hear about cool new uses. And I like to think it’s essentially a process of opening your mind.”
— Jane McGonigal

“What if the future that you think is most likely to happen is not a good future? Do you want to be right, or do you want to actually prove yourself wrong and help us all wake up in a better reality?”
— Jane McGonigal

“Right now we’re just playing with ideas, and we’re thinking about how our actions today could lead to a better, or a weirder, or a riskier world.”
— Jane McGonigal

“I don’t think universal basic income is a radical idea, but I’m on that train. I want people to work less and care more. Care for their kids, care for themselves, care for their communities.”
— Jane McGonigal

“I’ve seen the numbers on the four-day workweek, which I think isn’t going far enough. I’m already imagining a three-day workweek as a global norm, because there’s no reason—with automation, with AI—we need to work this much. Every time we’ve invented new technologies of productivity, economists have predicted that we’re going to use that to create more free time for leisure. … It only happens when companies experiment with shorter workweeks.”
— Jane McGonigal

“There’s an incredible new positive emotion that we don’t even have a word for yet that artists can use, storytellers can use, therapists can use, by using drones to give us a viewpoint we’ve never seen.”
— Jane McGonigal

“It works for me, Jane McGonigal, the game designer, to have become a futurist because what are the most fun games to play? It’s really not the game you play by yourself. It’s the game that you’re playing in big groups.”
— Jane McGonigal

“Just write a journal entry from this future. It will literally change your brain forever. That future is now forever imaginable to you, and it only took five minutes.”
— Jane McGonigal

“If we can create more abundance in the future, we fight less. There’s less sense of other people being competition. If we all have what we need, that’s a world where I think we can be a little bit happier and nicer to each other, and I would like to live in that world.”
— Jane McGonigal

“We take action to make the future we want more plausible, or take action to make futures we don’t want less likely. And that’s the power, not accuracy. It’s the ability to imagine and take action that we’re really trying to get better at.”
— Jane McGonigal

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 700 million downloads. It has been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it’s been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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