Power Ups for Your Life

There’s often the view that video games are seen as a form of escapism; that they isolate you from your real life by giving you another existence and another world that has no relevance to your own. But TED speaker Jane McGonigal realised a way that games can be used to help out those that are struggling within the real life they are stuck with day-to-day.

When Jane, a games designer from New Jersey, was left with a traumatic brain injury after experiencing a severe concussion. She was unable to write, drink coffee or even play computer games! When things were getting to their worst point, she said to herself:

“I’m either going to kill myself, or I’m going to turn this into a game.”

So she set to work creating her own make believe world where she was Jane the Concussion Slayer, the powerful hero of her own story where she overcame the demons of headaches, memory loss and depression. Her friends and family members became her allies – her Watcher, Willow and Xander – who were given their own roles and missions to assist with. She identified her enemies: the symptoms themselves or anything that caused them to get worse. Finally, she discovered her power ups, which were the things that made her feel better, reduced the symptoms or kept her on the right track to recovery. The 4 key strengths she wanted to focus on were Physical, Mental, Emotional and Social Resilience.

Physical icon Mental icon Emotional Social

She recognised that in order to get better, she had to set herself small goals, acknowledge her achievements – even the small ones – and draw on the support of her friends and family. This was the best way to stay positive and speed up the recovery process and was the basis behind her Superbetter challenge:


The idea behind getting “Superbetter” doesn’t just apply to those who have undergone severe trauma or mental illness. The idea of “gameifying” your goals is a great way of getting things done in a manageable and also fun way – whether it’s building social confidence, losing weight or getting that dissertation done on time.

It all starts with setting yourself Epic Wins, which are milestone goals or indicators needed to reach your final outcome. On the level down from this are your individual quests, which are small steps you can take to help you achieve it. For example, the Superbetter quests for becoming Georgie the Cake Slayer are to take a walk round the block, chug a glass of water and fight off the hunger bug. It’s a good idea to keep these quests recorded (either by a video diary, blog or you could try and make a physical achievements board) to look back on when you’re facing too many bad guys ’cause they’ll remind you of your achievements so far. Then you can grab your power ups and take the enemies down for the ultimate win!

The reason why playing a game is so rewarding and encourages you to keep completing quests is because of the way progress can be tracked. You can play along with your friends and imagine you are in a whole new world, but this can apply to your own life too. In her blog post from 2009, Jane describes why she chose to make her recovery from post concussion syndrome into a game:

“In an alternate reality linked to our favorite superhero mythology, we’re more likely to stay optimistic, because we’ll set more reasonable goals and keep better track our progress. We’ll feel successful even when we’re struggling, because our friends and family will define fiero moments for us every day. We’ll build a stronger social support system, because it’s easier to ask someone to play a game than it is to ask for help.”

If you want to start to gameify your life, Superbetter is available now on the iStore or as a web version at superbetter.com. I personally am going to adapt this idea and create my own little game to keep me busy and motivated once I finish work (one month to go!).

You can also view the TED talk on the subject below. Join in and apparently you could gain an extra 7.5 minutes of life. Can’t be bad, huh?

About Georgie

At 24 years of age, I have finally accepted my inner nerd. It's time to finally tell the world! Electronics student with a love for all things geek and gaming. Grab a cup of tea and let's talk Star Wars.
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