superhero

What happens when Jane McGonigal, one of the world’s preeminent alternate reality game designers and experts in game theory, suffers from a traumatic brain injury? Well, she designs a game to get better, of course.  And not just better; Superbetter.

Superbetter is an online, social game designed to help you build up resistance in four categories: mental resistance, emotional resistance, social resistance and physical resistance. And by building yourself up in these areas, McGonigal believes that you can overcome just about anything, from depression to obesity and anxiety to PTSD. In other words, this is few steps beyond playing Angry Birds or Draw Something.

Superbetter is an alternate reality game, which incorporates online and real-world tasks. So, for example, if your quest in the game is to lose weight, you might battle a bad guy after dinner every night—namely, mindless munching in front of the TV. Whenever you defeat your personal bad guys (I’ve nicknamed mine Evil Dr. Chocolate Bar), you can log that on the game website and earn yourself points.

It’s definitely a fun way to think about working towards a goal, but does it actually work? In a word, yes. 

In 2009, McGonigal had what seemed at first to be a minor accident, but which quickly morphed into a concussion with serious repercussions. Her brain injury sent her into a bout of deep depression, social isolation and anxiety. When her doctor told her that she might never get better if she didn’t see improvement within a year, she turned her passion for game theory and the psychology of positive emotions into a game for getting better. She became the hero in her own quest, enlisted friends and family members as allies to give her challenges and award her points, identified the bad guys that were her triggers, and made healthy choices that were her power-ups.

Today, she is completely recovered.

The SuperBetter website provides a framework, based in real science, for anyone to follow McGonigal’s strategy to work on their own quests. Although there are some common quests pre-programmed with challenges and bad guys, like losing weight or even working on a positive body image, the program is extremely customizable, making it an amazing free tool for every hero out there looking to slay a few personal demons.

Image: Lance Neilson