Jane McGonigal Talks Playful Recovery With SuperBetter

jane mcgonigal
jane mcgonigal
jane mcgonigal
Jane McGonigal

Games can make the world a better place, Jane McGonigal is convinced. At the Healthcare Experience Design conference in Boston last week she explained how she turned a painful recovery into a game – and turned it into an application other patients can use, too.

“When you hear about behavior change, people are often talking about motivation. But it’s not motivation that we are lacking when we try to change things, especially in healthcare”, the UC Berkeley graduate claims. The way she feels about behaviour change is that “it needs to sneak up on you sideways like a crab”. McConigal shared some new research that should help game developers. According to her, there are six things that patients needs and that can actually be achieved by design skills:

  • Build Challenge Mindsets: We need to feel like we have strength to face a challenge
  • High vegal tone: The better your vegal tone, the more resilient you are to stress.
  • Connectedness: Perceiption of social support is key. No matter how big the network of people who support you is, you actually need to perceive it.
  • Teach people committed actions: Identify goals and values and follow through with them.
  • Psychological flexibility: Openness to negative, painful experience.
  • Be able to identify silver linings from things gone wrong and traumas.

So how does that translate into game developing in the health space? According to McGonigal, who is an acclaimed games researcher and inventor,  game avatars can change the perceiption of ourselves. „We don’t think of games being connected with real life.“ Why it is so hard to improving and protecting our health is one of the questions, that McGonigal wonders about. The researcher herself was stuck in bed for weeks after a head injury. She wasn’t supposed to do anything, which eventually made her depressed. „I was like, I’m either going to kill myself or develop this into a game. Because after all, I’m a game designer.“ She called this game the „Jane the Concussion Slayer“ and according to her it was easier to ask someone to play along than to ask for help. Within a few days, her depressions started to go away. „Even when I was still in pain, I stopped suffering“, McGonigal claims.

Her game eventually evolved into SuperBetter, a template for others of what she did to overcome her suffering. „How can be something so trivial so effective“, McGonigal wonders and explain, “Small challenges are ways to strengthen willpower.” SuperBetter was designed to strengthen several types of resilience: Emotional resilience, social resilience and physical resilience. Data shows that previous SuperBetter players have an average age of 33 years, but McGonigal emphasizes that she also reaches out to an older demographic. “Most players have been struggling for over 5 years, and use SuperBetter to tackle their most important challenge in their lives.”

To better understand what SuperBetter is about, watch this video in which McGonigal explains the game: