April 12th, 2012
04:00 PM ET

Games 'tap into the best version of yourself'

By John D. Sutter, CNN

(CNN) - Think video games are evil? Spend some time with Jane McGonigal.

McGonigal - a designer who's queen of a genre called "Alternate Reality Games," or ARGs - believes games make us better people. They can be used to combat climate change, reduce poverty and, as she knows personally, help victims of conditions like depression, head injuries and cancer recover more quickly.

"Games are an extraordinary way to tap into the best version of yourself, the most determined, the most creative, the most resilient in the face of failure, the most likely to collaborate with other people - sort of heroic qualities," she said in a recent interview with CNN's "The Next List," which will feature McGonigal on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. "And it seems that if we play more games - games that we love - these qualities can actually spill over into our real lives."

McGonigal is no stranger to this website. We interviewed her at TED in 2010 and covered several of her subsequent games, including "Urgent Evoke," which aims to support entrepreneurship in Africa; and "Find the Future," a real-world-meets-digital scavenger hunt at a public library in New York.

One key point of McGonigal's argument is this: People spend tons of time playing games, so there must be something truly, innately compelling about them - about the way they quantify experiences, offer instant feedback and are, at their core, really fun.

She hopes to harness those qualities for good. In her recent book "Reality is Broken," McGonigal writes that about 5 million "extreme gamers" in the United States spend an average of 45 hours per week playing video games. Think about it. That's more than a full-time-job's worth of time, spent in virtual worlds. McGonigal says that means digital spaces must be providing something that's more compelling than the real world. Maybe by merging the two we can make the real world match up.

One of her recent efforts, called SuperBetter, aims to do just that.

Here's how McGonigal explained the game to "The Next List":

SuperBetter looks more like a social media platform, or a social network than a typical video game. You know, there aren’t any 3-D spaces to explore. You don’t have this avatar that you’re building up. It’s more about thinking like a gamer. It’s about looking for things to make you stronger and thinking.

I have power-ups in my real life, not just in the game.

The game aims to help people work through difficult experiences or illnesses. McGonigal developed it after she suffered from a traumatic brain injury and needed the challenge and support of a game to help move forward.

SuperBetter is really about changing how you think about yourself, and what you’re capable of. It’s exactly the kind of change that can really help you battle something like depression or anxiety ...

We’re helping you build up four different kinds of strengths. Mental strength, physical strength, emotional strength, and social strength. This is based on the idea of resilience. That’s an area of research that looks at how the body can withstand stress and heal itself. And we’re trying to translate all of that research into a game that you can play that will help you build up those traits in yourself and apply them to whatever real life challenge you might be facing.

Here's an example of one of the simple rewards that's found in the game:

My husband Kiyash started giving me achievements at the end of every day. He gave me the “you’re still human award” the first day that I took a shower and put makeup on. And I felt human. And something really interesting happened. I guess it was about a week after I started playing, and I think this fog of anxiety started to lift and this sort of constant anxiety and depression, but I was able to see what was going on more clearly.

To learn more about SuperBetter and McGonigal, watch CNN on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. And feel free to ask questions in the comments. We'll dive in to answer as many of them as we can.

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Filed under: Future • Gaming • Innovation • Social change • Tech • The Next List • Uncategorized
soundoff (61 Responses)
  1. In home Personal Training

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  10. Anon

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    April 16, 2012 at 9:55 am | Reply
    • Sousou

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      July 19, 2012 at 8:14 am | Reply
  11. Ed

    I can't decide what's more pathetic:

    People like Joe, who proclaim that video games make you a filthy, anti-social, lazy slob living in a parent's basement,

    or people like Josh, who proclaim that video games are the undisputed future of entertainment and enlightenment.

    Both of you are lunatics. Video games are yet another form of entertainment. Period. They aren't making anyone any lazier than TV already has, and they're not making anyone any better or smarter than TV already has.

    Long live the new flesh.

    April 16, 2012 at 8:50 am | Reply
    • cnnlicksit

      You're too logical and correct for CNN. Please stop it.

      April 16, 2012 at 9:48 am | Reply
  12. superbetter user

    I'm not normally a gamer–at least on the computer, I love boardgames–but I've been playing SuperBetter for some time. I was introduced through two stories and a series of blogs from NPR's On the Media. At the time, my life had ground to a halt as a result of a major depressive episode following a cancer diagnosis and subsequent radical hysterectomy. I'm working on a doctorate and could barely force myself to go to class, let alone do my work or researcb, clean my apartment, open my mail, pay my bills call my parents, go out with friends, etc. Getting out of bed sometimes seemed like too much. Eventually I started seeing a counselor, and SuperBetter played an important role in elevating my mood. My therapist might tell me to "schedule pleasant events" but having an ally set a quest for me to initiate a social activity or dance once a week to some song seemed so much more fun and novel. SuperBetter helped me feel more empowered to deal with my problems–I might still feel crappy, but dammit, I was still getting credit for taking little steps that would improve my situation. The program also provided a concrete way for my friends to support me and radically decreased the isolation that kept me circling the abyss. My mood has improved a lot, but I'm continuing to use the game to tackle different things in my life that could use attention. To those who have scoffed, I hope your life remains uncomplicated and happy. To those who have experienced and are still reeling from some of life's curve balls, check SuperBetter out and see if it might help you.

    April 16, 2012 at 2:41 am | Reply
  13. Gamer

    effn newbies

    April 15, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Reply
  14. K. Holle

    I am very interested in becoming a gamer for medical help. Could you please tell me how to do this?

    April 15, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Reply
    • Abdurohman

      must be fair to say that the french are inliiiduadvstic, in a not-so-humble way. if you get past that character of them, i guess you can go along well with any other nationalities. (i don't really buy the donation thing.)i am not fond of french people but the very few i like i really look up to. (uhm, like truffaut and godard and bazin, haha)

      August 22, 2012 at 1:23 am | Reply
  15. M.a. shaunee

    I just finshed watching the show, and reviewed all the comments made by others today, so far... I compel to state that we all should focusing on new ways to assist our world and the people whom are either stuck inside and/or have some desire to suceed in life general. I like the approach that Mc Gonigal is "handing out" and that i think most of the commentor's have let slided by them and that is simply that Gaming is and will be changing. Mark my words on this, and if we are truly smart, we will invest a Game. Lastly, being a women myself, I always proud to stand along side another inovatative person since I am always looking for ways to motive others as well. Thank you, and you all have fun playing your own special games but remember this you may want invent one yourself and/or invest in one day soon. Giggle to all today. * ; D shaunee.

    April 15, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
    • Esteban

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      May 2, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Reply
  16. Tim

    So basically this site lets you submit your own achievements for things you do?
    What a useless retarded concept coming from a person who plays games constantly who also has a life.
    After playing this "game" for a while and completing the first four tasks this exactly the same thing as making a list of things to do and then checking them off once you get them.
    This is a stupid and retarded concept.

    April 15, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Reply
  17. Anna A. B

    I want to congradulate your game designs. Also, involving the WORLD BANK is a great idea to launch gamers into their own IPO's. Showing gamers how initiative pays off is wonderful. We must all strive for a better, healthy world. ANNA

    April 15, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Reply
  18. mach stone

    I got a game for you.check-out the secret of the pyramid.it's a new spaceship design.you must have an open mind to see it. type in "eagle eye dimensions"on facebook. it will be in the upper right hand corner of your computer screen.

    April 15, 2012 at 9:16 am | Reply
  19. mach stone

    2012 universal times: if you type in "eagle eye dimensions"on Facebook ,you can see the secret of the pyramids. it's a unique spaceship design. you"ve never seen pictures like these before. observe the spaceship as it avoids this missile.it's the perfect airshow.

    April 14, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  20. Jeramie

    I been pumpin da plump rump of some dumpy chump. My pillow bitin buddies and I be lookin for sum jig-aboos with da big ol donger. I wanna polish dat cooon meat stick and mop up da spooo!!

    April 14, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
    • Kirsi

      1. Apa virtual set tebruset bisa di tampilkan secara live (realtime) bukan tapping??2. Apa saja hardware yang diperlukan utk menghubungkan kamera ke Komputer dan untuk output Video Out ??3. Dapatkan virtual set tebruset di konfiguasikan ke Komputer Pre Production (Globe Caster 8000) ??4. bisakah saya mendapatkan sample sebagai contoh??Makasih sebelumnya

      May 2, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  21. trollin

    You gamers are a bunch of ho-mos and freaks! You be sittin in mommy's basement wackin your pud and playin super gaaay war games! Hey nutbars....get off the couch.

    April 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Reply
    • Steve

      1/10 for getting me to reply.

      April 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Reply
    • pyrafire

      actually us gamers sit at home making more money than you.

      April 16, 2012 at 8:44 am | Reply
    • Shaun

      While filling the cipeor with paper at the office today, I was interrupted and told exactly how to open the wrapping and insert the paper in the paper try, the suggestion being that I'd caused massive paper jams because I'd done it incorrectly in the past. Ha ha,I've only been doing this for years and didn't fall for that one, nice try though.

      October 22, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Reply
  22. Josh

    Games allow you a form of interactive entertainment that the active minds of my generation prefer over television and movies.

    Anyone who thinks games are for lazy people isn't aware or is rather ignorant of their inherent benefits. true, just like watching TV you can over indulge, but video games are the future of entertainment, which is why as an industry they are blowing Tv and Movies out of the water...period.

    April 14, 2012 at 1:03 am | Reply
    • Ed

      LOL, Dork.

      April 16, 2012 at 8:36 am | Reply
    • Akbar

      HDMI is hardware seinttg, nothingto deal with postProductionbest way to work with SMU is to have AVI uncompresssed FileSMU is not an Editing video Progam, is a Keying+Virtual sets (sold separately) Post production systemfinally, you can record anything in best way/quality you want, then have a simple and uncompressed avi files wich will be well handled by SMUof course, if you work in Hires, be sure to have a highlevel pc to make rendering in a timely manner

      May 2, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Reply
  23. El Giblet

    SuperBoring if you're already, *awesome* 🙂

    April 14, 2012 at 12:40 am | Reply
  24. Eran

    EVE Online is an example of the good and bad that are in everyone. dont know any other online game that offers challenges in a social setting like EVE online does. for every griefer, theres a good samaritin 😉

    April 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Reply
  25. joe

    Actually, games tap into your inner lazy, antisocial slob so that you spend all day wallowing in your own filth in front of the TV rather than actually facing anything that is real.

    April 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Reply
    • JeramieH

      Says the man spending his time posting anonymously on CNN forums.

      April 13, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Reply
      • Jack Be Humble

        Joe is one of the best examples of a human being being he best example of himself. He is a Troll.

        April 14, 2012 at 8:27 am |
      • Joe

        Hey JeramieH. You that fairy that been on dem gay blogs? I saw your screen name....buttpirate. What a flamin fruit!!

        April 14, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
      • Link

        Doesn't that mean you were there too joe?

        April 16, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Shepherd

      Spot on JeramieH! My thoughts exactly.

      April 13, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Reply
      • Joe

        Shepherd is a rump ranger. I will mess you up, u lil punk! Let's get it on foo!

        April 14, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  26. Jamie

    Games 'tap into the best version of yourself' ?? Author has never experienced Warcraft chat.

    April 13, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
    • NateFromIndiana

      It shouldn't be surprising to find World of Warcraft trade chat over-populated with narcissistic people who probably don't get a lot of attention in any other part of their lives, but I think it counts for something that even on a server with tens of thousands of people, once you have about 15 or 20 of the worst offenders in your ignore list you find that most everybody else is busy being kind, courteous, thrifty, and all those other boy scout virtues. If CNN discussion threads had an ignore list like World of Warcraft they'd be a lot more pleasant.

      April 14, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Reply
    • Ed

      GOOD ONE!

      Also, XBOX Live is another pretty good example of gamers NOT being their best. 😛

      April 16, 2012 at 8:55 am | Reply
    • Cindy

      aiyeezh September 16, 2009 seryoso?!?! adik ung boss mo!!=) meron din akong boss bfreoe na nung inoffer nmin sakanya ung polvoron sabi nya ang mga pinoy daw an we-weird..kasi kung anu anu daw ang kinakain ntin pero fave nya chicken-pork adobo! baliw dba?! =p

      August 22, 2012 at 1:51 am | Reply
  27. JeramieH

    > ... digital spaces must be providing something that's more compelling than the real world

    You think? A boring mundane job, taxes to do, car that is leaking oil, empty fridge, unwashed laundry... you spend enormous energy in real life just keeping things held together, never feeling like you're making progress anywhere. Games in part fill the need to feel that invested effort leads to quantifiable results.

    April 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Reply
    • JeramieH

      I iz a fudge packer and I luv to ram my lil peter into da pooop chute of dem gayboyz!! Any fairies out there wanna party?? I will meet you anywhere, anytime!!

      April 14, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Reply
    • Goverdhan

      Hello I am looking for a viuatrl set to produce a TV show about real estate. For the video demo I saw the package of 3 Serious Magic Ultra 2, seems to be what I need. I would like to confirm that those scenes just the beginning of the video that appears in an aerial image showing several buildings and going inside a building taken at the table and showing the presenter is included in the package 3 of the program. I would also like to know a phone that I can contact a company official to clarify details about the product. My name is Marcelo and I'm from Brazil. Thanks if you can answer me as soon as possible because I need to do this work with some urgency. Thank you.

      April 30, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Reply
  28. George

    When i clicked on the link for SuperBetter my reaction was:
    Oh my god...You've got to be kidding me...
    I had exactly the same concept site, and I made it 2 years ago, but I took it down because all my friends said it was pointless and stupid

    April 13, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply
    • dude

      you definitely need to rub this in their faces

      April 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  29. paul

    oy vey the author has never met an Eve Griefer, definately not the best version of anybody

    April 13, 2012 at 11:05 am | Reply

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