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Nonprofit Gamer Finds Healing In Change

By The NonProfit Times - October 1, 2012

Games can do a lot. For Jane McGonigal, a game saved her life. After a concussion that didn’t heal property in 2009, McGonigal said that for months she felt like dying, fearing that she’d never get better, that the pain would never end.

“I was either going to kill myself or turn this into a game,” said McGonigal, director of game research and development at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Calif. “It sounds so stupid in retrospect.” The author of “Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World,” McGonigal was the opening keynote speaker at the ninth annual Games For Change Festival in New York City.

In the light of the Games For Change Festival, games are not the mindless time-killers that parents might rail about as much as they are about solving problems, educating or creating awareness. They’re not always a slick, graphic first-person shooter game, nor do they have to be computer or video based.

Within a few days of being Jane The Concussion Slayer — an homage to her favorite television show, Buffy The Vampire Slayer — McGonigal said that the black cloud of fear lifted, though other symptoms and pain lasted more than a year. Her efforts eventually transformed into the game, SuperBetter, which she launched this year, and will eventually include an app. SuperBetter aims to help people achieve their goals related to health by increasing their personal resilience in the face of challenges. Most people start with some resiliency, she said, whether it’s social, emotional, mental, or physical, and it’s important to use it and improve your resiliency like a muscle, to make it stronger and better.

McGonigal believes having a traumatic experience can make you better, using it as a springboard to unleash your best qualities. After a traumatic event, priorities change and people are not afraid to do what makes them happy, she said. They understand themselves better, have a new sense of meaning and purpose, feel closer to friends and family and are better able to focus on their goals and dreams — basically, the exact opposite of the five regrets of the dying. Trauma can help lead to a life of fewer regrets — the tricky part is being able to accomplish that without the trauma.

The idea that games are a waste of time that people later will regret is ubiquitous, she said. “Games are great and all, but on your deathbed, are you really going to wish you spent more time playing World of Warcraft or Angry Birds,” McGonigal asked. Well, maybe.

McGonigal said the top five regrets of the dying essentially line up with the five human cravings that games help to fulfill. Based on research by hospices, people on their deathbeds wished they hadn’t worked so hard; had stayed in touch with friends; had let themselves be happier; had the courage to express their true selves; and, lived their life true to their dreams instead of what others expected of them. McGonigal countered those regrets with the idea that games can strengthen family relationships, such as when parents play games with their children, and social games, like Words With Friends or even Farmville, help people stay in touch. NPT

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