Game Designer's Concussion Inspires Game for Better Health
CREDIT: Social Chocolate
Jane McGonigal, game designer, needed an advance on her extra life, or at least a power up. There was nothing virtual about the concussion she had suffered from a household accident which left her with moderate traumatic brain injury, even as she still struggled to finish writing a book on deadline. But as the game designer fought against the "iron fist" squeezing her thoughts, she had an epiphany.
"I'm either going to kill myself, or I'm going to turn this into a game," McGonigal wrote in a personal note on Aug. 18, 2009.
Two years later, her personal quest for recovery has evolved into an upcoming game, called "SuperBetter," designed to help anyone meet health goals such as battling diabetes or weight loss.
Players take on a heroic game identity (such as "Jane the Concussion Slayer"), recruit close friends or family as allies, and identify villains standing in the way of better health, said John Yost, co-founder and chief executive officer of the startup Social Chocolate. McGonigal is cofounder and creative director for the company.
"Friends, families and physicians become your allies in your adventure for better health," Yost said. "We're trying to tap into your intrinsic desire to make yourself 'super better' at something through carrots rather than sticks."
Such an approach tries to harness whatever motivates people to work for better health, rather than simply throwing information or health warnings at them, Yost explained. He presented "SuperBetter" at the Gamification Summit a conference about the use of gamelike challenges and rewards to provoke deeper engagement and more dedication in otherwise less interesting activities held in New York City on Sept. 15 and 16.
"An epic win is not 'I want to be free of heart disease,' but 'I want to attend my daughter's high school graduation,'" Yost said. "It's what motivates me to get better."
The game asks players to set personal quests leading up to their "epic win" over their health-related challenge. They can tap into self-created "power ups" such as cuddling with a favorite pet or talking with a sibling on the phone, as well as download "power packs" that contain expert advice on how to tackle any given health problem.
Players can always view progress toward their health goals at their "secret headquarters" an invitation-only personal website. Some players in the closed testing phase of the game have invited family members or physicians, but any ally can view player activities on a "status feed" similar to what shows up on Facebook profiles.
In the end, McGonigal got her epic win over her concussion. And her book, called "Reality Is Broken" (Penguin Press HC, 2011), has been on physical and virtual bookshelves since January.
Anyone curious about giving the game an early peek can sign up for access this fall at the SuperBetter website.
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