Review: SUPERBETTER by Jane McGonigal

SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient--Powered by the Science of Games
SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient–Powered by the Science of Games by Jane McGonigal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gamer or not, SUPERBETTER will improve your life; it is this year’s POWER OF HABIT. The fact is: Jane McGonigal outlines a surefire way to gain mental, emotional, physical, and social resilience. The fact is: “game play supercharges self-efficacy, work ethic, and determination.”

McGonigal is the “first person in the world to earn a Ph.D. studying the psychological strengths of gamers and how those strengths can translate to real-world problem solving.” She brings TONS of research and scientific findings into practical, playful—gameful—approaches to our everyday stresses and problems. It’s a fun way to make major improvements in life. “You’re going to get SuperBetter at something, not SuperBetter from something.”


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After applying her studies to herself, in creating “Jane the Concussion Slayer”, and seeing how it worked, McGonigal opened the “game” to over 400,000 people. Most of them saw improvements within 2 weeks, many seeing even more noticeable improvements 4-6 weeks into the program. The program went on to be controlled trial at University of Pennsylvania and a clinical trail at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. SuperBetter is now a website with accompanying apps on iTunes and the Play Store.

Here’s the gist, in 7 rules of the game:

1) Challenge yourself.
2) Collect and activate power-ups.
3) Find and battle the bad guys.
4) Seek out and complete quests.
5) Recruit your allies.
6) Adopt a secret identity.
7) Go for an epic win.

The book is broken into three parts: one to tell us why games make us better; two to teach us how to be gameful; three to build adventures in love, body transformation, and time enrichment. If you want to geek out (who doesn’t?) there are 12 pages covering the science of SuperBetter and 20 pages of footnote references. I particularly liked the end-of-chapter “Mission Complete” sections with the specific bulleted “Skills Unlocked”.

McGonigal waited five years to write the book to know that it works—and it does! Not only does she include the references to the studies, but she includes many, many stories of actual people and their triumphs. The successes are to be found everywhere. Even when I posted a picture of getting SUPERBETTER in the mail, I ran into Denisse on Twitter (@dtakes23) and found that she used SuperBetter’s game rules to save her life. (You can review her progress via #TakesKidney.)

The idea stems from people always wishing ill or hurting people to “get better soon”. It’s not enough to get better, but to get—SUPERBETTER. The ideas apply not only to post-traumatic growth as well as post-ecstatic growth. Through proven tools, we are taught how to activate the parasympathetic system instead of allowing the sympathetic system (fight or flight). We’re shown how to turn anxiety into excitement and threats into challenges. As McGonigal writes,“The actual stressful circumstance you face does not determine whether you view it as a challenge or a threat.”

The whole point is to “play purposefully”. As it is pointed out: “A skillful, purposeful activity that gives you direct control over your thoughts and feelings.” McGonigal tackles “All ways that we commonly think and act when we play games.” This can be anything from Candy Crush Saga to Call of Duty. There is a purpose behind games! It can be anything from finding reciprocity in feeding friends’ chickens in Farmville to working with leading a team in World of Warcraft.

The author is also sure to point out the drawbacks, as well as the benefits of certain types of games. Such as Call of Duty, where there is improved cognitive function and better performance in high-stress situations, yet Increase hostility or decreases empathy when someone plays against strangers. The question is asked: “Do you play to escape real life, or do you play to make your real life better?”

“Work ethic is not a moral virtue that can be cultivated simply by wanting to be a better person. It’s actually a biochemical condition that can be fostered, purposefully, through activity that increases dopamine levels in the brain.”

Everything is covered, from building SMART quests (specific, meaningful, adaptive, realistic, and time-framed) to Active Constructive Responding, or ACR: 1. Show enthusiasm, 2. Ask questions, 3. Congratulate and express happiness for them, and 4. Relive the experience with them. Oh, and I LOVE loving the gratitude: 1. Find the benefit, 2. Acknowledge the effort, and 3. Spot the strength. And these are just small samplings of many “quests” that are offered throughout the 480 pages of the book.

No matter your current successes or ailments, SUPERBETTER is ready to help you recruit allies, activate your secret identity, battle the bad guys, and activate power-ups. It’s fun; it works.

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6 thoughts on “Review: SUPERBETTER by Jane McGonigal

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons to be glad that I’m back from vacation (GIVEAWAY announcement) | The Avid Reader – Books, Books, Books!

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