Getting a bit SuperBetter

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October 23, 2011 by Darlene McC

The SuperBetter Story

It’s one of those strokes of genius that can only come out of something negative.  Jane McGonigal was (and still is) a game designer; but after a severe concussion caused by one of those random life incidents that take us by surprise she was sidelined – from her whole life.  She couldn’t work; she couldn’t write; she could barely walk around without feeling sick.  Understandably, she became depressed – and depression affects recovery, meaning if she didn’t get better she was going to be sicker longer and suffer more depression.

So she decided to get better… by making getting better a game!

To help her brain heal, she invented SuperBetter — and became its first player. Within a few weeks, she was feeling better and recovering faster than she’d ever thought possible.

After her successful recovery, Jane shared the rules of the game online and they spread like wildfire. She started receiving messages from people all over the world describing how they were using SuperBetter in their own lives-to help them lose weight, recover from a knee injury, get through chemotherapy, quit smoking, deal with auto-immune disease, survive heartbreak, overcome migraines, and even find a new job.

So SuperBetter is a game mechanic structure that you fill out as you try to get better!  Brilliant!

Wanting to be SuperBetter

It’s no secret that I have periodically struggled with depression.  Big deal; so do most people, right?  What I haven’t mentioned too much: this year has been one of the hardest of my life (for any number of reasons that don’t belong here).  I’ve been struggling – and when SuperBetter was featured on NPR’s On The Media a few weeks ago I thought “Oh, that’s brilliant” and happened to mention it to the hubster.  The hubster immediately recognized the recovery potential and went on-line to sign me up for the beta.

When I didn’t hear right away I was a bit disappointed; but last week when I finally received my invite I was jazzed.  At the next possible moment I was logging in to start my first missions.

Goddess Powers

So how does it work?  Upon login you are asked to complete a series of Missions that set up your Secret Headquarters.  One of the first few missions is choosing your Secret Identity.  Some people go all out and have a theme for their entire game; others just go with a loose structure and are more direct (one brilliant forum poster who is overcoming addiction is playing as Eddie Dean from Dark Tower and his entire SuperBetter is themed)…I’m somewhere in between.

I am Artemis, goddess of the hunt and wilds.  She carries a mighty bow, is the daughter of Zeus, and is known for slaying those who cross her or boast greater hunting prowess.  She lives for the outdoors and is surrounded by like-minded women.  Your hero exhibits qualities you admire and want to embody while you look to defeat what’s before you.

Epic Win

You’re asked to choose something to overcome, for me it is depression (people are using this system for everything from serious injury recovery to aggressive weight loss), and a mission to define what you’re playing for…. an Epic Win.  It’s strongly suggested that your first epic win is something achieved in the first 6 weeks of play to keep it immediately attainable.  I’ve just begun a course to become a Certified Personal Trainer and I really want that to be my epic win; but it’s a 2 month course.  For now my Epic Win is to study every day for 30 days to bring me closer to that larger goal.  They also suggest your first goal be quantifiable so you can definitely say it was completed.

As you complete each of these missions you rack up “resilience points”.  They grow over time and never diminish because as your self-esteem builds you continue to build on the foundation you’ve already created.

Bad Guys & Power Ups

Next you define Bad Guys and Power Ups.  Bad guys are the things that tear you down and keep you from your goals; power ups are the boosts you need to keep going.  A few of mine are kinda personal; but to help you get the idea:

Bad Guys

  • Brain Weasels – any obsessive thoughts, which are often accompanied by anxiety
  • Siren’s songs – Songs that send me into a depressive mood.  While I love Adele’s latest album, it’s been banned.
  • Poison – More than 1 alcoholic drink; refined sugar; refined flour.  Anything that makes me feel like ick.
Power Ups
  • A power song
  • Meditation
  • Cook a good dinner
  • Ridiculous YouTube video
  • Writing (hey, I’m doing that right now!)

You can have as many or as few as you want to and make a note of when you combat each.

Quests & Allies

Now on to the true meat: quests and allies.  Who would Batman be without Robin?  Even the Dark Knight with all his psychological bullshit took on some help.  So shall I!

Currently I have 5 allies: Apollo (Artemis’ twin brother and god of the sky), Athena (Goddess of wisdom and war), Demeter (Goddess of the harvest), Leto (mother to Artemis & Apollo and mistress to Zeus – guess who that is in real life…), and Orpheus (legendary musician and prophet).  Each of my allies have a specific mission to help me stay on track.  They can also give me quests and bestow achievements.

Quests are just like they are in a video game – “go do this thing!”  Because my goal is to study every day for a month one of my daily quests is to study.  Because mess makes me feel more depressed one of my quests was to clean up my apartment… another was to remove all the Siren’s Songs from my mp3 player (recall that bad guy?).

What would any game be without the badges of achievement?  Both the game and my allies have the ability to bestow achievements.  This weekend I made Level 1 Scholar (given by Apollo) for attending my classes…. I’ve been informed that a Level 2 Scholar has gone to 4 total classes, so I’ll have to wait another week to level on that.

Where’s this all going?

Who knows!  I can think of endless applications for such a simple, elegant design.  The engine itself in incredibly flexible and they’ve created Power Packs to start off anyone with a standard goal.  For each action more resilience points are distributed and they estimate people feel a significant difference between 100 and 150 resilience points – though they also have questionares in a private area of the HQ for a hero to track their progress in a more statistically sound manner.  I felt a difference while setting it up just at having the point of focus.  I plan to blog my way through my first 2 epic wins; so I’ll be keeping you posted.

My favorite nerdy thing about all of this?  Each component is backed up with sound science – and you can access any of that information.  Why do resilience points work?  Click the atom icon next to your score and you’re informed that

Resilience increases your ability to achieve any goal and to become stronger in the face of any challenge.

Scientific studies have identified seven strategies for increasing personal resilience.

  1. Set meaningful goals
  2. Use your unique strengths
  3. Avoid negative triggers
  4. Spark positive emotion
  5. Be realistically optimistic
  6. Persevere by being open minded and flexible
  7. Reach out to others

When we practice these strategies, we engage our social support networks, learn effective coping skills, increase our sense of mastery, and improve our overall well-being – all of which help us develop the skills and confidence necessary to successfully tackle challenges in the future.

Now you know.  And knowing is half the battle – or at least its the icing on your SuperBetter cake!

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