What if we could harness the best qualities we use when we play games—creativity, courage, focus—to make the real world a better place? Renowned game designer Jane McGonigal wondered that after a severe concussion led her to depression and thoughts of suicide. She created SuperBetter, a web game that saved her life. This hopeful, research-packed book (which includes challenges to get you “superbetter” as you read) traces the surprising science behind how games can help us improve memory, mood, resilience, and compassion—even minimize physical pain and protect against posttraumatic stress disorder.
A remarkable life plan developed from the program four hundred thousand people have used to recover from setbacks and injuries and achieve personal growth
In 2009, game designer and author Jane McGonigal suffered a severe concussion that wouldn’t heal. Unable to think clearly, or work, or even get out of bed, she became anxious and depressed, even suicidal—a common symptom for concussion sufferers. 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 game. What started as a simple motivational exercise became a set of rules she shared on her blog. These rules became a digital game, then an online portal and a major research study with the National Institutes of Health. Today more than 400,000 people have played SuperBetter to get happier and healthier.
But the 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 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 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 situations.
McGonigal explores the best ways to harness these gameful skills in the real world not only to experience “posttraumatic growth,” but also to tackle positive life goals, achieving what she calls “postecstatic growth.” To show how, she shares stories and data from players who have followed the SuperBetter rules to get stronger, happier, and braver in the face of depression, anxiety, illness, and injury, as well as to achieve major goals like losing weight, running a marathon, or finding a new job.
The SuperBetter method contains seven rules for activating gameful strengths in everyday life, distilled from McGonigal’s own pioneering work and that of others. SuperBetter the book turns these rules into playful challenges anyone can undertake while reading in a series of quests that explain the science behind the benefits. Playing by the seven rules begins to yield life-changing benefits in a matter of days, and eventually they become an ingrained skill set.
As inspiring as it is down to earth, grounded in rigorous research, and powered by game design, SuperBetter is a proven game plan for a better life. You’ll never say that something is “just a game” again.
About the Author
Jane McGonigal, PhD, is a senior researcher at the Institute for the Future and the author of The New York Times bestseller Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Her work has been featured in The Economist, Wired, and The New York Times and on MTV, CNN, and NPR. She has been called one of the top ten innovators to watch (BusinessWeek), one of the one hundred most creative people in business (Fast Company), and one of the fifty most important people in the gaming industry (Game Developers Magazine). Her TED talks on games have been viewed more than ten million times.
Kirkus: "For those in search of a new self-help regimen, "SuperBetter" might just be the answer. Strong medical research and firsthand accounts provide evidence that playing games can make you a healthier, happier, more confident person."
Daniel H. Pink, bestselling author of Drive and A Whole New Mind: “At the heart of SuperBetter is a simple and potentially transformative idea: We can use the same psychological strengths we display when we play games to confront real-life challenges, whether it's illness, injury, or just changing our habits for the better. Grounded in research and informed by McGonigal’s own sometimes harrowing experiences, this book will make you stop and think, then get you to act.” Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., Clinical Professor, UCLA School of Medicine and author of Mindsight: “SuperBetter delivers mind-boggling, science-supported, health-promoting knowledge and practical steps to bring more well-being into your life in a fun and engaging way, even if you are facing epic challenges like anxiety, depression, traumatic brain injury, or medical illness. Visionary innovator and researcher Jane McGonigal provides the proof and the practices that reveal how living a ‘gameful’ life can help you get personally stronger, closer to others, clearer in your mind, braver in your actions, and a greater hero in your own unfolding life story. SuperBetter is a playful, hands-on manual immersing you directly in challenges and adventures of creative gaming to develop more flexibility and resilience as you transform your life.”
Jennifer Senior, author of All Joy and No Fun: “In this dazzling manifesto, Jane McGonigal knits together state-of-the-art research, moving anecdotes, and extremely satisfying mini-challenges to show us how games—video and otherwise—hold the key to a more productive, joyous life. A game designer by training and an empath by nature, McGonigal uses every power-up at her disposal to convince her audience that the very tools we deploy in imaginary worlds can be used to overcome struggles in everyday life. The result is a candy-crushing, genre-slaying read, for which fans will surely be sending her gratitude notes for years to come.” Felicia Day, creator of Geek and Sundry and author of You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost): “SuperBetter is an amazing book that fuses psychology and play in an revelatory way. With a wonderfully encouraging writing style, Jane morphs the tropes of gaming into an empowering tool set for change. SuperBetter is impeccably researched, extremely accessible, and sure to inspire gamers and non-gamers to adopt gameful techniques into their day-to-day lives. The sword of self-improvement never seemed easier to wield against the monsters lurking in one's mind!” Rob Delaney, comedian and author of best-selling memoir Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage.: “You can't think your way out of a problem, but you can work your way out of a problem. SuperBetter shows us that it's also possible, and maybe even healthier, to play your way out of a problem. Especially if you're a silly person, like me or Stephen Hawking.” Asi Burak, President of Games for Change: “Jane McGonigal is easily one of the most innovative thinkers in gaming today. In SuperBetter, she reveals to the world a great secret that avid game players kept for years: games are not a waste of your time; they can make you stronger, happier and more mindful. Reading this book is a compelling quest for anyone—whether you play games regularly, or you just have an open mind about them.” Amy Cuddy, associate professor, Harvard Business School; author of Presence: “This book is a wise and compassionate distillation of a wealth of good research about the psychology and neuroscience of resilience and social support, married to a game framework that itself comes out of rigorous new science into the psychology and neuroscience of gaming. SuperBetter has been studied in action by the University of Pennsylvania and the National Institutes of Health, among others, and the facts are incontrovertible: following the SuperBetter rules makes people happier, more satisfied, less controlled by suffering, and stronger in their relationships with others. It really works.” Susan Cain, co-founder of Quiet Revolution LLC and New York Times bestselling author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking: “After reading Jane McGonigal’s SuperBetter I’ll never again say that something is ‘only a game.’ SuperBetter gives readers the tools to take the same challenge mindset we bring to playing the games we love and apply it to facing our greatest life challenges. The result is a clear path, not just to post-traumatic recovery, but to post-traumatic growth. In every sense a game-changing book.” Jack Kornfield, Buddhist teacher and bestselling author of A Path With Heart: “Jane McGonigal shows a playful doorway to well-being and how much we can gain from training attention. This is using the art of games to grow, heal and learn.”
Charles Duhigg, New York Times bestselling author of The Power of Habit: “Hundreds of thousands of people have had their lives changed by Jane McGonigal’s SuperBetter program, and I see why. It’s a marriage of positive psychology with pioneering insights from cutting-edge game design. This is a plan for profound growth in the face of whatever challenges life throws at you - and whatever ones you can throw at yourself.”
Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of Better Than Before and The Happiness Project: “Don’t we all want to be better than before? If fact, we’d like to be super better! Jane McGonigal’s fascinating, ground-breaking approach shows how ‘living gamefully’ can help us lead happier, healthier, more engaged lives.”
James R. Doty, M.D., Professor of Neurosurgery, Stanford University School of Medicine: “Many of us struggle to overcome challenges that seem overwhelming. Jane McGonigal has taken her immense knowledge of the science of gaming to create an innovative guide that allowed her to overcome her greatest challenge and now, thankfully, is available to each of us to overcome our own.”
Nilofer Merchant, CEO, Silicon Valley strategist, and author of The New How: “Until you understand yourselves as the hero of your own story, you'll never make a dent in the world. This insightful book shows you how to create the life of your dreams, using a gameful approach.”
Stacy London, host, What Not to Wear; author of The Truth About Style: “Jane McGonigal's book is an inspiring one about overcoming personal obstacles, and a revolutionary testament that game playing is for ANYONE who wants to change their life for the better. To become stronger, braver, and happier, you have to ‘play with a purpose.’ And if you don't know what that means, get ready… you will.”
Marc Goodman, author of Future Crimes and Chair for Policy, Law & Ethics at Singularity University: “Masterfully written and well researched, SuperBetter is literally a game-changer for anybody looking to build resilience in their lives. Though today’s rapidly evolving world can often seem overwhelming, McGonigal offers an important and timely roadmap to take back control of our own lives and focus on what really matters. SuperBetter is a quest well-worth going on.”