July 3, 2012 Update: Jane McGonigal speaks at a Games for Change conference in NY, bringing up some interesting and powerful discussions.
May 30, 2012 Update: Jane McGonigal teams up with Oprah to make a game.
Feb 20, 2012 Update: She spoke at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in late January. No one else on this list did that.
Why She's Powerful
Although some have criticized McGonigal's sometimes tenuous connections between games and "gamification" (the process of overlaying game-like influences such as achievements over more mundane aspects of daily life), there aren't very many other people in the industry getting to talk about video games on The Colbert Report. (And technically speaking, she considers herself against gamification.)
McGonigal routinely promotes her belief that gaming is good for people and for society, and that making a game out of ordinary or even unpleasant activities is a great motivator. She's made a game out of solving the oil crisis and a game that enabled players to camp out at the New York Public Library and somehow collaboratively write a book in the process. She's routinely dreaming up new projects like this and consistently can draw attention to her unconventional, civic-minded creations.
Her scholarly work at The Institute for the Future has helped her stand astride the pop academic world of TED and Silicon Valley as she leans into the mainstream. Modern video gaming has surprisingly few mainstream voices these days. McGonigal is one of the most conspicuous.