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SuperBetter: Jane McGonigal And The Gamification of Recovery

If you’re a nerd and don’t know the brilliance of Jane McGonigal, here are a few of her “Epic Wins”:

1.  Oprah named Jane one of the “20 Most Inspiring Women in the World”

2. New York Times Best-Selling Author for Reality Is Broken

3. “Top 20 Breakthrough Ideas of the Year” by Harvard Business Review

4.  “10 Breakthrough Ideas In Science” by The New York Times

5.  Ranked #16 All-Time Most Engaging TED talk out of 835 all-time TED talks (as of 2010) .. and that’s one ahead of Bill Gates, who’s ranked at #17.

And, oh yeah… she’s a VIDEO GAME GAME DESIGNER with a PhD from Berkley!

Talk about women working to do good…

“[Jane] has created and deployed award-winning games and secret missions in more than 30 countries on six continents, for partners such as the American Heart Association, the International Olympics Committee, the World Bank Institute and the New York Public Library. She specializes in games that challenge players to tackle real-world problems, such as poverty, hunger and climate change, through planetary-scale collaboration.”

Although McGonigal had been a Game Designer for several years, in the summer of 2009, she suffered a traumatic brain injury.  While writing her book, Reality Is Broken, she banged her head on an open cabinet.  It was an accident.  Suddenly, she couldn’t remember simple things.  When she hadn’t recovered after a month, she found herself in the vicious cycle of pain, anxiety and depression.  The only way to recover from ANYTHING is to break the cycle.  So, naturally, McGonigal turned recovery into a game:  SuperBetter.

I demoed SuperBetter this week and wanted to share with you – my readers – how vastly important I believe this game is.

We’ve all dealt with some variety of injury, illness, disease, anxiety, depression, addiction, etc.  These are usually the “Challenges” that hold us back in life.  I personally sustained a traumatic neck injury four years ago from a stunt accident gone wrong.  I wore a neck brace for over a year.  I went from a career of booking leads in horror movies to enduring life on a banished couch.  I couldn’t move.  I went blind for ten minutes.  And the worst part?  No one had answers.  The doctors put me on a really heavy anxiety medication.  Soon after, I gained thirty pounds and had dramatic mood swings.  Wanna know how I broke the cycle?  Video games.

McGonigal discovered three amazing similarities between recovery and multi-player gaming:


1.  Stay optimistic, set goals, and focus on any positive progress you make.

2.  Get support from friends and family. You can’t do it alone.

3.  Learn to read your symptoms like a ‘temperature gauge’.  How you feel tells you when to do more, do less, or take breaks, so you can gradually work your way up to more demanding activity.

Multi-Player Gaming:

1.  You have clear goals; you track your progress.

2.  You’re connecting with people you like.

3.  You tackle increasingly difficult challenges, but only when you’re ready for them.

Jane McGonigal says, “It immediately occurred to me that these three strategies sound exactly like what you do when you’re playing a good multi-player game.  The only thing missing from the recovery strategies, really, was the meaning – the exciting story, the heroic purpose, the sense of being a part of something bigger. SuperBetter is a superhero-themed game that turns getting better into a multi-player adventure.  It’s designed to help anyone recovering from an injury, or coping with a chronic condition, to get better, sooner – with more fun and less pain and misery along the way.”

SuperBetter launched their FREE public beta just over a month ago – on March 9th, 2012 – and it’s already a hit.

Account creation can be done so via Facebook or through private email.  SuperBetter is available through iTunes and I’ve heard rumors that there is an Android App on its way.

SuperBetter’s Recovery Game is all about the foundation of “Resilience”.  There are four kinds: Physical, Mental, Emotional and Social. The first thing you will encounter is a truly helpful tutorial.  Each type of Resilience will have you complete one easy task – tasks that you can accomplish quite easily.  Every time you accomplish a task, you rack up points for that category. For example, “Emotional Resilience” will ask you to either look out an open window for a few moments or Google your favorite baby animal.  Once you’ve done this, you will have gained +5 Emotional Resilience points and get a very brief video from Jane McGonigal explaining the scientific value of what you just accomplished.

After you’ve gone through the quick four-step tutorial, it will be time to choose your “Challenge”.  Challenges fall under two umbrellas: “Illness or Injury” (cancer, surgery, anxiety, etc)  or  “Health Goal” (losing weight, quitting smoking, running a marathon, etc).

I chose “Physical Injury”.  SuperBetter gave me a “PowerPack”.  Awesome!

“POWERPACK / POWER UPS”:  A “PowerPack” is a set of four pre-designed “Power Ups” (complete with cool little icons) that will help you achieve your health or wellness goals.  For instance, my PowerPack included “Realistic Optimism”, “Master Minder”, “Physical Resilience in 5 Minutes” and “Emotional Resilience in 5 Minutes”.  (For Mid-Core Gamers and above out there wondering… yes, you can change your PowerPack or add more at any time.)

“QUESTS”:  The home page is fresh and friendly, giving you everyday “Quests” to help you break your cycle.  It starts off very easy, so don’t worry.  One of my first “Quests” was to text a friend and say thank you for something.  I got +5 Emotional Resilience!

“BAD GUYS”:  You also have to take on “Bad Guys”.  Bad Guys come in four forms: “Traps”, “Mental Blockers”, “Symptoms” and “Triggers”.  You can choose your own personal Bad Guys and track your progress with how deal with them daily.

“SOCIAL”:  One of my favorite features of SuperBetter is its social element.  This is not a typical social platform, however. You can absolutely choose to stay private.  But the game allows you to chose “Allies” – just a few people you’d like to include (family, close friends) while you play and Recover.   One of the most frustrating issues I’ve personally encountered during Recovery was having to explain the difficulties of my Physical Injury to my loved ones.  As a result, I didn’t want to burden them.  I strongly believe that not having positive and encouraging social experiences during my initial Recovery lead to stagnation.

For those of you curious about the medical accuracy of this game, this is the SuperBetter statement (there are also several medical videos and reading you can access on their website):

SuperBetter was invented by a game designer, and created with guidance from doctors, psychologists, scientists and medical researchers. Every aspect of the game is designed to harness the power of positive emotions and social connection for better health.”

I’ve been using SuperBetter for a little more than a week and can already see it’s benefits.  I feel like I’m accomplishing something everyday.  I feel more positive about my Recovery.  I like that I can track my progress in a really fun and captivating way.  It’s as simple as that.

I highly recommend you get this game.

And… if you haven’t seen Jane McGonigal’s speech about Gaming, it’s… perfect:


Featured Image Via: SuperBetter Facebook

Additional Images Via: JaneMcGonigal.com, SuperBetter, and Forbes

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