Jane McGonigal is serious when it comes to playing games. She’s a world-renown game designer who insists playing games for an hour a day can change your life. That’s right. Playing video games can actually change your life. Gaming, Jane says, produces powerful emotions and social relationships that can really change lives, and potentially even change the world. Scientists call it “game transfer” phenomenon: what we think and feel in games starts to spill over into our real lives. Jane further believes that playing games can us help bond with our family and friends, strengthening our real-life and online social networks.
But McGonigal isn’t talking about shooting virtual terrorists or zombies in traditional video games. Jane is a pioneer in the field of A.R.G, or Alternate Reality Gaming. These are games designed not just for entertainment, but to tackle real-life problems and solve world issues like poverty and climate change. McGonigal created “World Without Oil,” which simulated the beginning of a global oil crisis with the goal of inspiring players to conserve oil. She masterminded “Evoke,” on behalf of the World Bank Institute, empowering young people all over the world to help solve social problems like hunger and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. Jane and her team enrolled more than 20,000 people from 130 countries in the first ten-week trial of the game. A new version of "Evoke" focusing on Brazil is releasing this year.
Now Jane has launched what she calls her most exciting and important game to date: SuperBetter! It’s a game she developed to help players attack a wide variety of personal challenges; from obesity to asthma to addiction. For McGonigal, the inspiration for SuperBetter was super personal; she created it after suffering a traumatic concussion and finding herself in a deep depression and not healing. Jane decided that making a game to beat her concussion was a better than allowing her illness to get the best of her—so she came up with a platform for what she called “Jane the Concussion Slayer,” (based on her favorite TV heroine “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) and out of that hatched the game SuperBetter. Players travel through several missions while playing; the “bad guys” and “power-ups” change depending on the condition, and users can share ideas via forums. The goal is to build resilience and overcome your issue whatever it may be. The game was created with guidance from doctors, psychologists, scientists, and medical researchers. The hope is that playing the game will harness positive emotions that will lead to better health.
Who actually benefits from playing Jane’s game? On “The Next List” we talk with a woman who overcame a debilitating disease by playing SuperBetter, and McGonigal herself reveals her harrowing story. Jane made an amazing recovery, not only to her skyrocketing career as a leading designer of alternate reality games, but to writing a NYTimes Best Seller, and to launching a start-up in San Francisco built around SuperBetter.
But McGonigal says for her the ultimate “epic win” (that’s gamer speak for a really huge and surprising success) would be to see a game developer win the Nobel Prize by the year 2032!!
Tune into CNN 2 P.M. E.T. April 15th to see the full 30-minute profile of Jane McGonigal.