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SuperBetter is a fun book with research, examples and activities to make us live better and take live a little less seriously.


The first time I saw SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal, I thought, Now I have a good excuse for all those hours sunk on Dragon Age and Mass Effect.

However, for a book about games, SuperBetter is more serious as I thought it would be. The author, Jane McGonigal, hit her head around 2009 and got a concussion. Because it did not heal properly, she developed nausea, headaches, and other symptoms that come with that kind of trauma. She soon started having trouble communicating with her family and sometimes struggle developing proper sentences. After that came depression.

Doctors told her there was no particular straightforward way to her concussion, but she must avoid anything that triggers her symptoms. That means no email, no caffeine, no writing, etc. Long story short, she decided to think like a game designer (which was her former job) and turn her daily routines into games. She recruited her twin sister and told her to play her game with her. In her own words:

“… I created a simple recovery game called Jane the Concussion Slayer. This became my new secret identity, a way to start feeling heroic and determined instead of hopeless.”

SuperBetter teaches us that humans sometimes display better attitudes, attributes and qualities when playing games than they do in real life. The author believes that if we can channel those qualities into our day-to-day activities, the qualities of our lives will be much better – mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially.

The author says we excel in games because we always aim for a goal and seek out challenges. She says,

“… when we play a game, we focus on goals and growth. We seek out challenges voluntarily, and we savor the difficulty. We play not to avoid losing, but to find out what we are capable of. And we believe that victories even against the great odds are possible.”

Seeing this, Jane McGonigal exhorts us to try and ‘gamify’ our lives in little ways in order to enhance our quality of life as well as improve ourselves.

Jane McGonigal gives examples of ways we can do this, which is by giving ourselves immediate tasks within a limited set of time. E.g.:

1. Standing up and taking three steps: This can improve our physical resilience over time.

2. Snapping our finger 50 times: To improve motivation, focus and willpower.

3. Looking outside of the window for thirty seconds: To access positive emotions.

4. Holding someone’s hands for at least six seconds: To increase social resilience.

Each of these activities and other equivalents, she says, is backed by scientific research to improve different aspects of our lives. Hence, doing little stuffs like these can go a long way in making us live longer and happier.

The author says most people see games as an addicting waste of time, but if used properly can set us on a course to finding our true selves. However, Jane is keen to warn us that, though she found recovery by following these principles, it is not a substitute for seeing a health specialist to solve simple or complicated health problems. She was also keen to warn that temperance is the best policy when it comes to games as addiction can be detrimental to our health and lives in the long run.

SuperBetter is a fun book with research, examples and activities to make us live better and take life a little less seriously. The language used is simple to understand and the book itself is a blend between an activity book and a research study book. Whether you are a gamer or nor, or suffering from a debilitating illness or not, SuperBetter is worth a peek.

SuperBetter  is written by Jane McGonigal and published by Penguin Press (September 15, 2015)

Many thanks to Penguin Press for review copy. All images are © to their respective owners.

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