SuperBetter: The Power Of Living Gamefully, by Jane McGonigal
I was pleased to read this book for several reasons, at least in general, largely because the approach discussed in this book is one I tend to undertake. The author encourages readers to view their lives as a game, and to treat the various aspects of games like quests , power ups, allies, and enemies/obstacles as aspects of one’s life as well. This is something I regularly do, and I have found that it tends to add some level of optimism to a life that is frequently on the melancholy to gloomy side, it must be admitted. The book is itself written in order to encourage better health outcomes by increasing resilience and a sense of responsibility and hope among people suffering with serious illnesses, and I can see this as a worthwhile aim in public health, although the author has to make it plain (at the beginning and throughout the book) that this is not being done to replace medical care but rather to supplement and encourage it. Likewise, this book is aimed at those who already have a positive view of games, as those who view games in a negative fashion will likely be highly resistant or skeptical to the book’s gamification of life approach.
This book is about 400 pages long and is divided into three parts. The author begins with a discussion about what one needs to know before one plays the SuperBetter game as well as an introduction. After that the author has four chapters on why games make us superbetter (I), including the fact that we are stronger than we know (1), we are surrounded by potential allies (2), we can be the heroes of our story (3), and that we can make the leap from playing games to being gameful (4). After that the author explores various ways to be gameful (II) by encouraging the reader to challenge oneself (5), gain power-ups through beneficial behaviors (6), deal with various bad guys and obstacles (7), engage in quests for things that have to be done (8), encouraging one to gain allies (9), adopting a secret identity (10), seeking to gain epic wins (11), and keeping score of how one is succeeding in life (12). After that the author discusses some adventures (III), giving very long quest chains for games she calls love connection (i), ninja body transformation (ii), and time rich (iii), after which the book ends with some notes about the science of the book’s approach, acknowledgements, notes, and an index.
Ultimately, gamification is something that people have mixed feelings about. There are some people who view games as a terrible waste of time and something that can actively threaten relationships. Yet if viewed wisely, games help us realize certain aspects of our lives are very much like games, and that if we are skilled in recognizing these features, we can gain a sense of freedom as a player in a game rather than feel as if the world is hostile to us. We do have powers, even if they are limited, and we do have allies, even if we also have enemies as well, and realizing that life is full of quests to accomplish that enrich our existence and make it easier to see the success we have in it. Admittedly, I am a highly biased reader of a book like this in that the way I enjoy games, not only video games but tabletop role playing games, and in gamifying life, all of which predisposes me to appreciate this book and its approach even if I find the book’s attempt to curry scientific favor more than a bit entertaining. If you dislike games, though, and find it insulting that one would view life as a game, this book would probably not appeal to you as much as it does to me, though.
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