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Book Review: Superbetter

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SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient *Powered by the Science of Games by Jane McGonigal


An innovative guide to living gamefully, based on the program that has already helped nearly half a million people achieve remarkable personal growth

In 2009, internationally renowned game designer Jane McGonigal suffered a severe concussion. Unable to think clearly or work or even get out of bed, she became anxious and depressed, even suicidal. But rather than let herself sink further, she decided to get better by doing what she does best: she turned her recovery process into a resilience-building game. What started as a simple motivational exercise quickly became a set of rules for “post-traumatic growth” that she shared on her blog. These rules led to a digital game and a major research study with the National Institutes of Health. Today nearly half a million people have played SuperBetter to get stronger, happier, and healthier.

But the life-changing ideas behind SuperBetter are much bigger than just one game. In this book, McGonigal reveals a decade’s worth of scientific research into the ways all games—including videogames, sports, and puzzles—change how we respond to stress, challenge, and pain. She explains how we can cultivate new powers of recovery and resilience in everyday life simply by adopting a more “gameful” mind-set. Being gameful means bringing the same psychological strengths we naturally display when we play games—such as optimism, creativity, courage, and determination—to real-world goals.
Drawing on hundreds of studies, McGonigal shows that getting superbetter is as simple as tapping into the three core psychological strengths that games help you build:

• Your ability to control your attention, and therefore your thoughts and feelings
• Your power to turn anyone into a potential ally, and to strengthen your existing relationships
• Your natural capacity to motivate yourself and super-charge your heroic qualities, like willpower, compassion, and determination

SuperBetter contains nearly 100 playful challenges anyone can undertake in order to build these gameful strengths. It includes stories and data from people who have used the SuperBetter method to get stronger in the face of illness, injury, and other major setbacks, as well as to achieve goals like losing weight, running a marathon, and finding a new job.

As inspiring as it is down to earth, and grounded in rigorous research, SuperBetter is a proven game plan for a better life. You’ll never say that something is “just a game” again.

After I stopped raiding, I discovered that I’d been doing it long enough that even though my MMO days were done, I’d pretty much always behave as if I were in a progression guild. As life reoriented around first training for a bike tour and then a new baby, we joked about writing a book called Everything I Need to Know I Learned from World of Warcraft. In some ways, it was very specific. Grinding skills and doing dailies are still things I think about in strictly game terms. In others, and this is why the book was only ever a jest, the parallels between game and life could be transposed onto any other suitably clever framework.

But, and there’s a but here, that’s only if you’re constructing a pithy metaphor. It turns out that gaming is an ideal framework and that the implications ramify outward in some amazing ways. In a very real sense, SuperBetter is the Platonic ideal of that ethereal book.

Jane McGonigal, rather than applying lessons from a particular game to roughly analogous real life situations, designed, implemented, and studied the effects of her own game based on real life experiences. By all accounts, and there are many cited in the book, it was and is an amazing success.

When I first read about the game “SuperBetter” in Reality is Broken, it was presented in a slightly different format with many of the same tactics and goals. Like much of the rest of the book, I remembered the parts that were interesting to me and jettisoned the parts that didn’t feel relevant. What SuperBetter does is make it relevant to almost everyone. You don’t need to experience a trauma to play. In fact, you can create exceptional situations and apply everything the book has to offer to rise to them.

Recovering from a traumatic brain injury or running a marathon. Training of a bike tour or having a baby. Reducing stress or finding a new job.

Be warned, though, McGonigal doesn’t even wait out the introduction before giving you your first, and second and third and fourth, quests. So, by the time you actually get into the book, you’re already playing. You’ve partially committed. And you’ve experienced minor results for minimal effort.

That’s really what makes McGonigal’s writing so compelling. She’s excited about what she says and she says it in such a way that the reader becomes excited as well. Packed with examples, research, and testimonials, SuperBetter might be the life changing book you didn’t know you were looking for.

Recommended for fans of My Gender Workbook, TED Talks, and Daring Greatly.


Author: Cassandra

mom, wife, accounts payable, serial dropout, theory bitch, anarcho-idunno-syndicalist, literary alchemy enthusiast

One thought on “Book Review: Superbetter

  1. Pingback: New times call for new methods: How Gamification can be used in Higher Education to enhance employability « NAFSA TechMIG

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